LINCOLN COUNTY (WAOW) -- One way state leaders planned to slash the budget deficit was to consolidate the juvenile corrections facilities into one area in Lincoln County. All the youth have moved in, but school leaders say their work is just beginning.
From inside one of the classrooms, the combined Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facility looks like a typical school. But the students aren't there by choice.
"I don't wanna be here, but I'll do it," said a 17-year-old from Madison who says he's in for armed robbery. "I can do it."
After closing down two other facilities, state leaders have funneled youthful offenders to the consolidated facility in Irma in Lincoln County to finish out their sentences.
"Kids feel safe here," said Paul Westerhaus, the superintendent for the consolidated schools. "They feel secure here. They feel that staff are going to treat them right."
For many of the 253 young men and women, the combined school brings a change of scenery.
"There's a lot of trees and stuff," said the 17-year-old. "Lot of woods."
"There are a few things that have not totally been completed, however we'll still be able to maintain sight and sound separation," said Westerhaus. "We're going to be able to continue to provide the same treatment."
The consolidation comes on the heels of an announcement by the state's Department of Corrections saying many juvenile facilities were running far below capacity. State leaders credit this to alternative programs, since only the youth most in need of custodial supervision come to the facility.
"They teach me right from wrong and stuff," said the 17-year-old. "And I can learn from my mistakes."
State leaders said the consolidation will save them $23 million, but more importantly, it prepares youth for life after they leave.
Of the 290 workers at risk for layoffs because of the consolidation, about 270 have found new jobs or relocated to other positions within the Department of Corrections.