MILWAUKEE — Some of Wisconsin's most troubled young offenders will soon be heading to a new juvenile correction facility near Glendale on Milwaukee's north side. Not everyone is happy about it, but one of those former offenders is speaking out for the facility.
Tommy Kirk was sent to Lincoln Hills School for Boys twice, first as a 12-year-old and then as a 17-year-old. Lawmakers passed a bill that will close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake School for Girls by 2021. That means the children who get sentenced to those correctional facilities have to go somewhere. Kirk said Milwaukee's north side is the best place for them.
The former gang member had a long rap sheet as a kid. He was sent to Lincoln Hills after dealing drugs.
"I had sold some cocaine to some undercover police officers," Kirk said.
That was more than two decades ago. He has since turned his life around, graduated college and works with troubled young people at Fresh Start Counseling Center. Kirk said children have less chance of offending again if they have family support. That was nearly impossible for him and others to have at Lincoln Hills which is more than three and a half hours away from Milwaukee.
"My mom was only able to come once," Kirk said.
For more than a year and a half he had no other visitors.
But some Glendale residents are not happy with a youth jail right on their border. City leaders issued a formal opposition to the facility. Milwaukee's north side Alderman Ashanti Hamilton also has some concerns about bringing high-risk offenders to his district with little warning.
"We still haven't had any real briefing about what the facility would look like, how it would operate within the community," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said Milwaukee, especially on the north side, has a number of detention centers. He is calling on the state to slow down the deadline.
"Let's take a look at the number of locations we have in city that would accommodate those needs and then choose the best site," Hamilton said.
But Kirk believes the time is now to bring the Lincoln Hills juveniles closer to their families.
"I think it's a great thing because youth that are trying to be rehabilitated the family needs to have access to them to be part apart of the rehabilitation process," Kirk said. "Nobody understands until its their brother."
Lawmakers have introduced a bill to delay the closure of Lincoln Hills until July 2021 to give more time to decide if the facility should be built on the north side. It is currently in committee.