UPDATE: Teacher cites ACLU injunction and Act 10 as factors to current state of Lincoln Hills

(WSAW)
Published: Oct. 17, 2017 at 3:42 PM CDT
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"I've never ever worked in a more toxic and hostile environment," Pandora Lobacz, the teacher punched in the face by an inmate at Wisconsin's only youth prison.

Wednesday, a week from the attack, she told 7 Investigates Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10 and Right to Work laws along with the ACLU's recent injunction have both contributed to the current state of Lincoln Hills.

In a statement Tuesday, the Department of Corrections said Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools are a safe place for staff and students. Lobacz said Wednesday, she wholeheartedly disagrees.

"I want help for the youth there. I want help for the line staff that I care about," she said.

Though small in stature, Lobacz has a big heart for the students at Lincoln Hills and the staff who help them, but that big heart is breaking from widespread violence and harassment she has seen inside the institution.

"It used to be a one time that it was maybe one or two youth that were resisting," she said, "but we're having units now and its students are resisting."

She said since ruling on the ACLU's injunction over the summer, which limited the use of restrictive housing, restraints, and the use of pepper spray, there is little staff can do to discipline inmates who misbehave.

"If you don't hold somebody who is criminal minded accountable," she explained, "they will keep doing more and more until something major happens or again, my concern is that they're going to kill somebody there. And it might not be line staff. It might be another student because we can't protect them."

On top of that, she said the facility is severely understaffed and cannot retain employees for long, describing youth counselors in particular as being worked to death.

"Your front line staff that's supposed to be protecting the other students and protecting each other are working 70 to 80 hours of overtime every pay period and that's within two weeks," she said.

She blames that on Gov. Walker's Act 10 and Right to Work laws for taking power away from unions Lincoln Hills staff relied on. She added Walker's consolidation of all the state's youth prisons in 2011 happened before Lincoln Hills could hire enough workers for the amount of juveniles they would hold. She said they have never been able to have enough workers since.

The DOC confirmed Wednesday 16 Lincoln Hills employees are not working due to "various work-related issues."

"I'm putting my tiny little neck out there to try to get change because I could have been dead if I didn't have my YC's coming to my rescue," she exclaimed. "He could have actually killed me. And then DOC would be looking at a whole other level and the Walker Administration would be looking at a whole other level of how they're going to deal with this and suppress what's going on there."

Lobacz said staff members are afraid to speak freely about Lincoln Hills. Doug Curtis, a union representative told 7 Investigates employees are investigated after speaking with news media about the institution to see whether they follow policy, but the DOC's policy states as long as employees are speaking for themselves and not for the DOC as a whole and they are doing so on their own time, that is their right.

Lobacz' forgives

"I can look beyond him getting into a fighters stance and punching me directly in the face and knocking me out," Lobacz said Wednesday reliving the moment she says has traumatized her for life.

"This is going to be hard to believe, but I would even be willing to work with him again," she said, "of course he would have to be on restraints, because I want to make him understand that I am a human being and that it's not right at any level to hurt anybody."

Her background may bring more understanding as to why she would do that. She has a bachelor's degree in behavioral therapy, a bachelor's and master's in art therapy, and is only four classes short of a master's in professional teaching. In addition to her education, she has nearly 25 years experience working with the Division of Juvenile Corrections, 19 of which have been spent with the most violent and mentally unstable students.

"No matter who I'm working with, whether it is a young man looking at 30 years to life, he still somewhere in his heart has good because I truly believe that there is no one walking the face of this earth that is truly evil," she said referencing her Catholic upbringing.

Nearly all options to hold students accountable for their actions she said have been taken away. She urged juveniles that misbehave need to be disciplined for their actions in order to give students the programming and help they need, or else violence she says could kill someone.

"I forgive him," she said holding back tears. "Because you have to. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to do the job I do every day or the job my coworkers do every day. I forgive him."

Oct. 17, 2017

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"Look at me! What's it going to take? Someone getting killed, an all-out institution riot?" Pandora Lobacz, the teacher punched in the face by a student at Lincoln Hills School told 7 Investigates this is what she told managers after she regained consciousness from being knocked out Wednesday.

Lobacz said staff assaults happen constantly at the state's only youth prison. Doug Curtis, a former youth counselor there and current union representative for LHS employees said about 30 people are currently on leave for physical assaults. Newschannel 7 has requested information about any attacks by a juvenile on a staff member from the Department of Corrections. That request for information has not been fulfilled as of Tuesday night.

Lobacz and Curtis say another female staff member was punched in the face Monday, sending her to the emergency room. When asked about Monday's assault, Department of Corrections Communications Director responded with this statement:

DOC is strongly committed to the safety and security of staff at Copper Lake School/Lincoln Hills School. We take the safety of DOC staff very seriously and are constantly looking at ways to further enhance staff safety. Both DOC and DJC leadership visit CLS/LHS on a regular basis to hear directly from line staff. Additionally, Deputy Superintendent Lori McAllister spends a significant amount of time speaking with staff throughout the institution. We put into place a number of measures to enhance staff safety, including the addition of a number of security staff, updates to policies and procedures governing institution operations, greatly increased training for staff, the addition of body cameras for all security staff, and the increased availability of self-defense training for non-security staff. Additionally, the 2017 – 2019 executive budget adds 6.75 FTE youth counselors and 3.75 youth counselors-advanced, who will increase the presence of security staff throughout the institution. Copper Lake School/Lincoln Hills School remains a safe facility for staff and youth. The department has already spent significant resources and will continue to make substantial investments to maintain a safe and secure institution for staff and youth. We acknowledge that corrections is a challenging profession, and we are incredibly thankful for the hard work of our staff every day to make a positive difference in the lives of youth in DOC custody.

Newschannel 7 spoke with Lobacz Tuesday, who recounted her attack on Wednesday, saying the inmate involved was not following the prison schedule. He was supposed to be in her class, but went to a different classroom instead.

Lobacz says she called to have him brought to her room. She was told he had been fake boxing in the other classroom before he was brought to her, clearly agitated. She says when he came into her classroom she expected him to sit at a desk, but he instead went to a small room inside the classroom that once was occupied by the class social worker. She said he was clenching and unclenching his fist throughout this time.

She said she told him he needed to follow schedule, rules, and policy and to sit at a desk. She says he then began pacing in front of her desk. She remembers him saying "you're not running this classroom, I am."

Lobacz said she turned to her phone on the other side of her 'L' shaped desk to call for counselors. When she turned back to him, she says he had placed himself in the opening of the desk, cornering her.

She said another student called out at least three times for the student to sit down and not to do "it." The student was making verbal threats and having a background in special education, Lobacz said she knew she was in danger. She called out saying to any staff listening saying, "you need to get him out of here!" She says, that's when the student punched her left eye, knocking her out for several minutes.

Lobacz says she's not sure if the student continued to assault her after the punch, but said she knows she hit the desk as well. When she regained consciousness, she recalled she could not move her body and was extremely dizzy.

The first thing she said when able to speak was, "I want every manager in here!"

She says the inmate that punched her is known as an adjudicated adult, meaning he recently turned 17, but is being held at Lincoln Hills until he is 18 and can be moved to an adult institution. She says this young man has assaulted five other people, both staff and other juveniles. Because he is a minor, and juvenile records are sealed in Wisconsin, Newschannel 7 cannot confirm those attacks.

The Department of Corrections has turned the investigation into this assault over to the the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office. They say they continue to investigate the incident.