WisconsinWeekly: Lead failures force out MKE health official; suspensions in Green Bay; lawyer shortage; long-term solitary struck down in Canada

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You read it here first: Center stories provide crucial backdrop for this week’s news

This week we feature some stories that advance previous coverage by the Center on important topics including lead in drinking water, racial disparities in Wisconsin’s educational system and the dire effects of long-term solitary confinement on inmates. Also this week, former Center intern Abby Becker details the impact of a state bill that would pre-empt Madison’s protections for certain classes of workers. And University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism student Peter Coutu — who worked on the Center’s ongoing Broken Whistle series — writes about the lack of lawyers in rural Wisconsin, which is making it difficult to address the growing crime problem caused by the opioid epidemic.

WisconsinWeekly is produced by us, Andy and Dee J. Hall, a couple who founded the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Andy is the executive director and Dee is the managing editor.

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Health Commissioner forced to resign in wake of ‘egregious public health failure

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service – Jan. 12, 2018

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker announced he was resigning after the Milwaukee Health Department failed to notify the families of over 8,000 children found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Baker’s resignation comes following reports by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service that documented the department’s uneven approach to warning residents about the risk of lead poisoning from water. Earlier: In 2017, the Center revealed that Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin had missed numerous chances to reduce lead in drinking water and provide better care for lead-poisoned children.

B.C. Supreme Court strikes down indefinite solitary confinement in prisons

Global News – Jan. 17, 2018

The British Columbia Supreme Court ended a law that allowed federal prisons to keep inmates in solitary confinement for an indefinite amount of time. The plaintiffs contended that such open-ended stints in solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Earlier from WCIJ: Wisconsin inmates report despair, little counseling in solitary confinement that can stretch on for years

Green Bay schools struggle with disproportionate suspensions of black students

Green Bay Press Gazette – Jan. 14, 2018

During the 2015-16 school year, black students accounted for 29 percent of the total suspensions from the Green Bay School District, yet only made up 9 percent of the student body. This is part of a decade-long trend of disproportionate suspensions that district and community leaders are trying to fix through diversity and de-escalation trainings for staff members. Earlier: A 2015 report from the Center’s Abby Becker detailed Wisconsin’s worst-in-the nation disparities in discipline, academic achievement and graduation rates.

Wisconsin Republican bill would eliminate 12 protected classes under Equal Opportunity ordinance

The Cap Times – Jan. 15, 2018

Speaking of Abby Becker, she is now a reporter for The Cap Times. This week, she reports on a Republican-backed bill that would prohibit local municipalities from establishing and enforcing their own employment discrimination laws. In Madison, this would result in the elimination of over a dozen protected classes, including gender-identity, homelessness, source of income, citizenship and student status.

Where the lawyers aren’t

Isthmus – Jan. 18, 2018

Student journalist Peter Coutu reports that rural Wisconsin counties are facing a shortage of attorneys, including court-appointed public defenders, as the growing opioid epidemic has roughly tripled criminal caseloads in some areas. The problem comes amid declining law school enrollments and Wisconsin’s lowest-in-the-nation pay rate for court-appointed attorneys.

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