Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher has closed a division that helped trigger a federal investigation into allegations of abuse of inmates by staff at the state’s youth prison.
The handful of investigators in the Office of Special Operations, which investigated allegations of employee misconduct, will be moved to a division primarily focused on reviewing allegations of sexual assault in order to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which is aimed at reducing sexual assaults within correctional facilities.
Attorney General Brad Schimel was first made aware of allegations of inmate abuse at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls by the office’s investigators after they reviewed a number of complaints alleging potential misconduct. A federal investigation into those allegations has been underway for more than two years.
According to a May 22 letter to DOC employees from Litscher’s office, the reorganization’s purpose is to “augment our ability to meet and exceed federal PREA standards, retain our capacity to maintain preparedness and respond to major incidents, and strengthen our ability to conduct PREA investigations.”
The agency needs 57 additional staff members at the juvenile correctional facility to comply with the federal law, and has until October to do so.
DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said the department has dozens of staff investigators and that the closed office — which was created in the 2013-15 state budget — did a small proportion of employee reviews, and focused on sensitive matters.
Assembly Corrections Committee chairman Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, said he isn’t concerned about the reorganization.
“I think they really want to focus on the PREA compliance,” Schraa said. “And it’s not like they are not going to be doing internal affairs.”
Schraa said he plans to monitor how the office’s closure affects how complaints are investigated within the department’s ranks.
“I’ll have an extra ear out (to make sure) I’m not hearing that internal investigations are being put on the shelf, but I’m not concerned about it,” he said.