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Other view: Merger helps Lincoln Hills serve youth

5:02 PM, Apr. 12, 2013  |  Comments
Lincoln Hills School in Irma has added new job training services for youth offenders.
Lincoln Hills School in Irma has added new job training services for youth offenders.
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The decision by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 to merge the state's three juvenile detention facilities into one at Lincoln Hills School in Irma has been a success by several metrics.

The first and probably most immediate way is on the state's balance sheet. The merger has saved the state $46 million since July 2011. In our era of tight budgets, that matters.

But what matters even more is the fact that the merger and associated cost savings have meant that, for the first time in a long time, Lincoln Hills School has been able to expand its staff and job training programs. The school, which houses 265 juveniles, recently added welding and construction classes, thousands of new books to the library and has hired new staff members.

"Now, it feels like we have the resources to do what we need to do," Superintendent Paul Westerhaus told Daily Herald Media for its report on Lincoln Hills' post-merger progress.

The factors that lead kids into delinquency and crime are complex. Social and psychological factors, developmental issues and economic ones all play a role, and none of these has a simple solution.

But along with counseling and other forms of treatment, job training can be an important way that the kids who've been sentenced to Lincoln Hills can begin to build a new life for themselves. Turnarounds can and do happen as these young people reach maturity, but they won't happen in the absence of intensive work. They won't happen if the state's juvenile detention facility is a mirror of its jails and prisons for adults. That's part of what makes the turnaround at Lincoln Hills is so important.

The intervention into the lives of troubled or at-risk kids cannot begin at a place like Lincoln Hills School. It is far, far better to have a system that detects and addresses the problems that lead youth to become offenders long before they have a chance to develop. There's a strong argument that we need to do much more than we are now doing to keep our youth from ending up in the legal system in the first place.

But once they're there, we need to do everything we can to provide those youth with options and ways of changing their lives.

After the merger, Lincoln Hills School is doing a better job of that.

- Wausau Daily Herald

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