- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker was informed about potential problems at a juvenile prison in northern Wisconsin more than a year before he ordered the Department of Corrections to take aggressive action against any prison staff who were involved in wrongdoing, records released by Walker’s office show.

The State Journal (http://bit.ly/1IYCqx8 ) reports the documents show Walker’s office received a letter from a Division of Juvenile Corrections administrator in November 2014 that raised potential concerns at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Lincoln County.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick says the Corrections Department placed staffers on leave after learning about possible mistreatment of inmates late last year. The department also notified the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and sent the investigation to the state Justice Department.

Walker, speaking to media in Milwaukee on Friday morning, said the Justice Department didn’t bring his office reports of concern until a few weeks ago and that he demanded swift and immediate action at that point.

The Justice Department began an investigation into alleged abuse in January, and the Lincoln County District Attorney launched a John Doe probe into allegations that include sexual assault and misconduct in public office in October.

The newly released records also show the governor’s office received communications in June and July alleging abuse of inmates by staff at the schools.

Walker’s assistant director of constituent services forwarded a message to the Corrections Department on June 10, saying a counselor at Lincoln Hills had called and said employees watched a video of staffers abusing offenders. The counselor, Chad Mauk, said the employees were told they weren’t supposed to do the things they saw on the recording, but he said they were told they wouldn’t face discipline if they did.

Walker’s constituent services director, meanwhile, forwarded an email to the Corrections Department on July 29, from a retired Lincoln Hills staffer saying there were severe problems. “You are running for the highest office in this country,” Kevin McCarthy wrote. “And you have staff who are being assaulted, youth who are being assaulted, doors being broken, windows broken.”

Paul Westerhaus, Division of Juvenile Corrections administrator, responded, saying in a note to McCarthy that he was aware of problems, but doing what could be done to keep people safe.

The records also show Westerhaus communicated with Walker’s office Nov. 19, saying violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act uncovered in an audit would be fixed ahead of a January deadline.

Westerhaus was relieved of his administrative duties Dec. 3, a day after Walker was briefed on the probe.

Justice Department spokeswoman Anne Schwartz didn’t immediately respond to an email or phone call seeking comment from The Associated Press.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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