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Douglas to open juvenile facility

by Andy Bourelle

Juvenile detention centers are overcrowded throughout Nevada, and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Juvenile Probation Office are working together to help solve that problem – at least for Douglas County.

The sheriff’s office has two jails – one at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center in the Carson Valley and one at the Douglas County Administrative Building at the Lake. Construction is planned to begin in March at the Lake jail, and one of its two wings is going to be converted into a juvenile detention facility.

Ray Finnegan, juvenile probation officer and supervisor of the new facility, said he hopes to have the detention center ready by July 1.

Currently, Douglas County juveniles go to the detention center in Carson City. The center is overcrowded, but through a contract Douglas County is guaranteed six beds at the center. But, Finnegan said, those beds are usually occupied. If a new juvenile offender needs to go into detention and there is no space available, the offenders have to be prioritized and one let out.

“It’s frustrating for the (district) judges to have to prioritize the kids in custody,” said Finnegan, “because they want to see justice. It’s frustrating for juvenile probation. It’s frustrating for parents. It’s a major frustration for everyone.”

Douglas County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Scott Cook agrees.

“Throughout Nevada, there are many, many youths out on the street who shouldn’t be,” he said, “just because there’s no room.”

Nevada has five juvenile facilities. The juvenile detention center in Carson City has an 18-bed capacity but admits up to 27 youths. The center in Clark County has a 126-bed capacity but has 220 to 230 occupants. A new facility recently opened in Elko and is already filled to capacity.

“The juvenile detention situation in Nevada is so overlooked it’s become critical,” Cook said. “Carson City is 30 percent above capacity. Clark County is 100 percent above capacity. We’re almost being pushed into this by necessity.”

Douglas County’s juvenile facility will have 15 spaces – 10 for boys and five for girls. About half the spaces will be reserved for Douglas County juveniles, but spaces will be available for other law enforcement agencies to use. Douglas County pays about $80 a day for juveniles to stay in Carson City, and Finnegan plans to charge a similar amount at Douglas County’s center, which will help cover the costs.

Finnegan and Cook expect the facility to be filled. They will not be surprised if counties 400 miles away want to put juveniles there, but they will not allow it to become overcrowded.

“When you’re at about 10 percent over capacity, you’re flirting with danger,” Cook said. “We’re just not going to go over capacity at all.”

Converting the wing of the jail into a juvenile facility is not as simple as putting juveniles into the current cells. It will require constructing more cells and rooms, putting in a kitchen, installing more showers and doorways, building additional walls, erecting fences and making the detention center look “as un-jail-like as possible” – despite the metal toilets and cinder block walls.

At the entrance to the juvenile wing, now covered by an electronic metal gate, an additional corridor will be built to ensure no adults in custody see or hear the juveniles.

“It’s a huge project,” Finnegan said. “It sounds pretty simple. ‘Yeah, we’ll just put the kids in here.’ It’s not as simple as that.”

While the juvenile detention center and the county jail will be separate entities, they will be working closely together. Jail deputies will book the juveniles, making sure the adults are “locked down” during the process and not in contact with the juveniles. Also, the building has a “yard,” or a large concrete recreation room, both the juveniles and adults will be able to use – but never at the same time.

“Obviously, the (jail and detention center) will have to keep in close communication with each other,” Finnegan said. “There has to be a lot of give and take. It has to be a very symbiotic relationship between the two departments.”

The project would not be possible without the help of the sheriff’s office, Finnegan said. Knowing the Lake jail has surplus space, both former Sheriff Jerry Maple and Sheriff Ron Pierini supported the possible conversion. Another reason the possibility of a juvenile facility has become a reality is the support of the county commissioners, who gave their approval in October 1997.

Up to $150,000 has been allocated for the conversion, but Finnegan said he hopes it will not cost that much. Some furniture items already have been donated to the facility, and he said he hopes to receive more, such as textbooks and teaching tools. Finnegan asks those interested in making donations to contact the Juvenile Probation Office at 782-9811.

Juvenile offenders are put into detention based upon the discretion of the district judges. Juveniles in detention are often awaiting a court date. Or if he or she is waiting for a space to open at a juvenile training facility and appears to be at risk to cause other offenses if out of custody, a juvenile sometimes stays in detention for up to 60 days.

Judges have the authority to put juveniles into detention for specified periods of time but rarely do, Cook said, because of the overcrowded Nevada detention centers. Currently, there is no intermediate step between probation and places such as the Nevada Youth Training Centers in Elko and Caliente.

The facility will have 10 workers – eight full-time and two part-time employees, five men and five women. In addition to being supervised and cared for, the juveniles in detention also will be educated. They will have six hours of class a day.

Although the juveniles in detention will be criminal offenders, Finnegan said, they will still receive supervision appropriate to children and not adults.

“Safety and security of the kids in custody is the utmost priority for this facility,” Finnegan said.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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