Grand Jury points out the obvious concerning juvenile facilty
El Dorado County’s Final grand jury report has officially documented what county officials already know all too well – the county’s juvenile facilities are badly in need of update and repair.
In compiling the report, grand jury members made unannounced inspections to the Juvenile Hall facility in Placerville in September and December of 1998. Chief among their findings was the fact that Juvenile Hall is overcrowded – conditions that were detailed in a three-part juvenile justice series in the Tahoe Daily Tribune earlier this year.
Currently the facility has been working under a court-ordered capacity cap of 40 juvenile inmates, but at times has as many as 49 are on hand.
Also detailed in the report: a pressing need for a juvenile hall facility for South Lake Tahoe; testing for the use of closed circuit cameras between the Tahoe courts and the Placerville facility; major and minor repairs at the Placerville facility, including the need for an improved medical room; and the eventual need to relocate the Placerville facility to make expansion possible in the future.
“This grand jury recommends the same action as previous grand juries,” the report read. “And that is to build a larger Juvenile Hall facility in Placerville and a new facility in the Tahoe area. The Placerville facility is too small, outdated and lacks expansion capability. The costs associated with working around this substandard facility and the risk of future litigation may soon exceed the cost of a new facility.”
“In talking with grand jury members, they feel that the need for a new facility has been beaten to death with previous grand juries,” said Superior Court judge Suzanne Kingsbury. “Many of these points have already been dealt with by previous grand juries. What more (could the current grand jury do?)”
In April, the county presented the California State Board of Corrections with an $8.15 million grant proposal to fund the construction of a new Juvenile Hall in Placerville. That request was denied, however, and the county will try again for the grant next year. However, a separate $750,000 challenge grant proposal for a day-use facility in South Lake Tahoe was approved.
South Tahoe’s challenge grant also includes a $455,000 matching fund proposal from the county, bringing the total new funding to $1.2 million. The funds will be used to create a juvenile day-use school and counseling facility, at a site in South Shore to be determined.
The new South Lake Tahoe facility will provide eight hours of supervision per day – including five hours of school – for as many as 25 youthful offenders. Programs at the facility would include family counseling, drug and mentoring programs and after-care counseling.
And it would prevent the necessity for some of Tahoe’s youthful offenders to be transported to Juvenile Hall in Placerville – which is expensive, time-consuming and sometimes difficult during inclement weather.
A consultant hired by El Dorado County last year predicted that the county would need at least 52 beds by 2000, 70 beds by 2005 and 80 beds by 2015.
But even if a new facility in Placerville is not built in the near future, a juvenile hall in South Lake Tahoe would greatly reduce the pressure on the system.
According to the grand jury report, the Lake Tahoe area accounts for as much as 30 percent of the juvenile ward population in the Placerville facility. If these juveniles could be housed at Lake Tahoe, “This could buy time for the county to find additional funding to build a new facility consisting of 80-100 beds in the Placerville area,” the report read.
According to a state crime report released in March, juvenile arrests in the three-county area have increased 16 percent over the last decade, and one in five arrests involve a felony. Officials in El Dorado, Mono and Alpine counties say that the “at risk” juvenile population is expected to increase by more than 26 percent, to 34,780, by 2015.
“In a lot of counties, juvenile hall is just a punishment mode,” said El Dorado County Deputy Chief Probation Officer Dan Segalas, the official in charge of the Placerville Juvenile Hall. “Kids are in there for a short time, to scare them, essentially. Then they go to a youth ranch or a camp.
“We don’t have youth ranches or camps in this county, because we don’t have the resources. So juveniles tend to spend longer periods of time in this facility. There are no intermediate options, and that puts a strain on everyone.”
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