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Funding for juvenile hall recommended

Christina Proctor

El Dorado County’s effort to obtain state funds to expand its Placerville juvenile hall jail space has been blessed by state officials.

A state steering committee recommended to the California Board of Corrections that El Dorado, Alpine and Mono Counties’ $1.4 million jail be funded.

The Board of Corrections will consider the proposal on May 22.

The counties’ plan is to add a 12-bed pretrial violent offender unit onto the existing 40-bed juvenile hall in Placerville. The hall is chronically overcrowded. Mono and Alpine counties will have use of two of the 12 beds. A delegation from all three counties presented their case last Thursday to the steering committee.

Ken Cater, El Dorado County chief probation officer, said of the 38 counties requesting money from the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Grant Program approximately 75 percent were recommended for funding.

“Of the $40 million available, $20 million was set aside for smaller counties,” Cater said. “The Board of Corrections later set aside even more for the smaller counties because they determined the need was greater.”

Cater said he believes the large delegation from the three counties helped the plan gain approval.

“Some counties only sent the chief probation officer,” Cater said. “Our delegation was significant just in its presence.”

Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury, who was part of the delegation, said the funding will not solve all the problems faced by the county’s probation department and law enforcement.

“Ideally we should have our own juvenile facility up here at South Lake Tahoe,” Kingsbury said. “The Tahoe wards are really at a disadvantage. The county’s family reunification program requires parents to be down at juvenile hall several times a week. Due to weather conditions and the time it takes to travel to Placerville, participation is virtually impossible for many parents … it’s not the fault of juvenile hall or probation. It’s frightfully expensive to build a facility, but there is ultimately a cost to our society if we don’t do something.

“The philosophy of the counties’ judges is that we would like to maximize the amount of money, time and effort on juveniles so they don’t graduate to become customers in our adult system. We believe the best shot we have to rehabilitate an offender is when they’re young.”

El Dorado County Supervisor John Upton, another member of the delegation, said the money will help, but the county still must deal with the larger problem. Upton explained that recently the county board voted to support California Senate Bill 2147 authored by Sen. Jim Brulte. The bill would bring state law in line with federal and allow juveniles and adults to be held in the same jail. The adults and juveniles wouldn’t be able to see each other, or talk to each other, and would have no physical contact.

“Hopefully the law would make it possible to have a facility up in South Lake Tahoe,” Upton said. “It would allow us to utilize the jail.”

Introduced in February, SB 2147 was unanimously approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee Wednesday and now goes on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Cater said he will be on hand May 22 if the Board of Corrections has questions about the Placerville plans. He will go before the board in July to discuss the Placerville facility’s lack of recreational space. Today, a 1-acre field is now a requirement for every new hall with capacity for more than 40 minors. The Placerville hall is on a three-quarters of an acre plot. Cater said they are looking at rearranging parking space and providing a schedule to fully use the existing three areas for indoor and outdoor exercise.

“We will have to be creative and come up with a plan to juggle our existing space to meet the minimum for recreation,” Cater said.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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