Juvenile hall location a problem for South Lake Tahoe
Editor’s note: First of a three-part series.
It’s Tuesday morning in Placerville, and James is getting dressed for a trip to Lake Tahoe.
But there is no snowboard in his luggage, and the 15-year-old will be back by dinner. James (not his real name) is incarcerated at the El Dorado County Juvenile Hall, and he’s making a day trip to his hometown (South Lake Tahoe) for a court appearance.
Attire for the trip will include county-issued denim jeans, gray sweatshirt and leg manacles – a sort of larger version of handcuffs. The trip to South Shore and back will consume about two hours, and that’s not counting the time in court.
“When (James) got here, he really was not a problem at all,” said Daniel Segalas, Deputy Chief Probation Officer at Juvenile Hall. “But all of a sudden one day, he began acting out. He and another boy were having a conversation, and (James) just punched the other boy in the stomach. We couldn’t figure it out.”
After investigating the incident, Juvenile Hall staff discovered that James had not had a family visit since he arrived.
“It had been 30 days, and his parents had not been down to visit him,” Segalas said. “They said that they had no transportation, and that it was a hardship. So we got in contact with his grandparents, and they came down to see him. He’s been much better since then.”
James’ case illustrates the problems that juvenile offenders and county officials face on a daily basis. If a juvenile gets into trouble in the South Lake Tahoe area, the only recourse that officials have is to transport him to juvenile hall in Placerville. Once there, the youthful offender often feels cut off from home and family – a condition that often only makes his situation worse.
“We have several treatment and counseling programs here (at juvenile hall), but many of them require parental participation,” Segalas said. “And that can be a hardship for parents, especially in the winter months.”
The Placerville facility is overcrowded as it is. On a Tuesday visit, there were 49 juveniles in custody, and only 40 beds to house them. One day last week, the population was up to 51.
At any given time, many of those juvenile offenders will be from the Lake Tahoe area. A recent state study contends that as much as 40 percent of juvenile crime in El Dorado County occurs in South Lake Tahoe. But South Shore has no juvenile holding facility, which presents many problems.
“First of all, it’s a logistic nightmare,” Segalas said. “South Lake Tahoe is sometimes reluctant to transport a juvenile here, because it takes at least one officer off the street for three hours.
“Then, once they’re here, it takes man hours by our staff to transport them to court in Tahoe. We sometimes transport as many as six at a time (usually a round-trip). A lot of juvenile halls have courts right on the premises, which would be great. But this is a small county, and we don’t have that system.”
El Dorado County recently applied for an $8.15 million grant from the State Board of Corrections, which awards funds to select counties each year to upgrade juvenile facilities. If El Dorado County is awarded the grant, officials plan to construct a new 80-bed facility near the current site – in the County Government Center on Fair Lane Road in Placerville.
If the grant does not go through (El Dorado County is in competition with several other small counties for grant money totaling $20 million), officials plan to enlarge the current facility by 12 beds, at a cost of about $1.5 million.
But the latter plan would hardly be cost effective. A consultant hired by El Dorado County last year predicted that the county would need at least 52 beds by 2000, and 80 beds by 2015.
“For the past two years, we’ve been looking at the prospect of creating a juvenile facility at South Lake Tahoe,” Segalas said. “That would ease some of the burden. But the issue that has always stopped such a project in the past has been environmental concerns.
“Time is always a big issue when applying for these state grants,” he said. “But securing a site in Tahoe is a complicated process, with the TRPA and everything. And when you’re competing for money with 58 other counties, addressing Tahoe’s environmental issues takes us right out of the picture.”
The Board of Supervisors are aware of the Tahoe problem, and are working on a solution. Fifth District Supervisor Dave Solaro, in particular, is actively working to get a juvenile facility in South Shore in the near future.
Meanwhile, El Dorado County has applied for additional grant money to establish a day reporting center in South Shore. In other words, it would be a work-release program where juveniles would report to the facility during the day and return home for house arrest at night, possibly with the aid of electronic ankle bracelets.
“It’s an option,” Segalas said. “But one has to wonder what is going to happen a few years from now, when the juvenile population increases.”
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