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An opinion/letter published in the May 4, 2010, Tomahawk Leader:
Consolidating juvenile corrections functions at Lincoln Hills School in Irma is in the best interest of the state, the local economy, and the kids who need the rehabilitation offered by the system. Recent state budget troubles have highlighted the problems (or unintended consequences of success) of the state’s juvenile corrections system. Both Lincoln Hills School in Irma, and Ethan Allen in Wales, are operating at half capacity, while the state’s budget for juvenile corrections is projected to be running a deficit of almost $25 million. What is the state to do?
Governor Doyle has appointed a task force to look at this problem and give him a recommendation by the end of May. In addition to looking at ways to reduce costs in the system, this task force will study how to best serve juvenile offenders. That distinction is very important. Cost reduction can be done any number of ways, but keeping in mind how to best serve the juvenile offenders is what tips the scales towards keeping Lincoln Hills as a juvenile corrections facility. Given that labor costs are likely equal, overall the facilities at Lincoln Hills are in newer condition, and presumably less costly to maintain. Transportation costs are likely negligible, and Lincoln Hills is also utilized frequently as an emergency lockup facility for juveniles, being the best equipped for that role in the entire northern half of the state.
What better place to counsel and rehabilitate the troubled youth of the state, than on a quiet, secluded hilltop in Northern Wisconsin. Lincoln Hills is away from the glow of big city lights and away from the rumbling sounds and atmosphere of a metropolitan area. What better place for reflection, education, and rehabilitation? Obviously this isn’t some weekend spa, but this tranquil semi-isolated setting is still beneficial for the type of treatment and learning that juvenile offenders are in need of.
The economics of our area also support consolidation of current functions to Lincoln Hills. While being converted to an alternative use such as an Alcohol or Drug treatment facility may save some jobs, it is likely there will be jobs lost with any other alternative use of the school. Lincoln Hills School and its staff are a significant part of the local workforce – over 75% of the staff at Lincoln Hills live in the Merrill and Tomahawk areas. They are an integral part of our communities.
Last month, the Department of Workforce Development reported that unemployment in Lincoln County had gone up to 14.2%, 5th highest in the State. 190 staff members at Lincoln Hills have a much more significant role in our communities economically, than the 200 staff at Ethan Allen play in Waukesha County’s 380,000 population. Our area needs to focus on retaining any jobs we can, as well as growing opportunities for new jobs.
Counseling, foster care, and other alternative programs will not be able to help all juveniles. Despite the best attempts of family and society, there will always be bad kids in Wisconsin that need to be locked up, and given the attention they need to get themselves turned around. Lincoln Hills School is the place for juvenile corrections. It is in the state’s best interest, the local economy’s best interest, and above all, it is the best place for the kids to get the treatment they need, the education and schooling they need, and the care and attention they need.
Department of Correction Secretary Rick Raemisch has said “Through thoughtful and realistic discussion about the needs of the state’s juvenile corrections system, we will be able to increase the success we’re seeing with falling juvenile incarceration rates and save tax dollars at the same time. It’s the best way to meet the needs of tomorrow.” We agree with Secretary Raemisch, and we feel that Lincoln Hills School provides the environment to continue the success juvenile corrections has had in Wisconsin.
Submitted by Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki and Tomahawk Mayor Bob Lee
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