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More jail space needed

Christina Proctor

El Dorado County wants federal money to help create jail space for violent juveniles.

El Dorado joined Mono and Alpine counties to ask for more than $1.4 million to build a 12-bed pretrial violent offender unit at the existing 40-bed juvenile hall in Placerville. The Placerville center is chronically overcrowded.

A delegation from the counties, which will include South Lake Tahoe Mayor Hal Cole and Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury, will present their case to state officials who ultimately will dispense the federal dollars. That meeting will be Thursday and a decision is expected by May.

The state has $40 million in the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Grant Program. Half that amount is reserved for small counties, with a provision local government come up with 10 percent in matching funds. El Dorado’s contribution would be $162,547.

El Dorado County Chief Probation Officer Ken Cater said juvenile arrests in the three-county area increased 16.2 percent in the last decade, and one of five arrests involved a felony.

El Dorado, Mono and Alpine officials say the “at risk” juvenile population is expected to increase more than 26 percent to 34,780 by 2015.

“We’ve been anxious to expand our juvenile hall for years, but because of limited funding there has been no money, local or otherwise to expand juvenile facilities,” Cater explained.

Cater said the state has $40 million worth of requests for the $20 million available. The alliance with Mono and Alpine may give El Dorado an advantage, he said, and those counties will have use of two of the 12 beds.

Neither Mono or Alpine have any juvenile jail capacity.

Placerville expanded in 1981, but was chronically overcrowded in 1995-96, housing as many as 53 criminal suspects. In 1996 El Dorado County judges ordered a population cap of 40 juveniles.

South Lake Tahoe Police Chief David Solaro said he worries about public safety when he has to send two officers on a four-hour round trip to Placerville.

“It takes the officers off the street and it can be a hazardous trip especially in inclement weather. It also takes the juveniles farther away from their parents during a time when they probably need to see them more than ever. Some parents don’t have the means to travel to Placerville to visit their children.”

Often juveniles who might spent some time in juvenile detention are cited and released to avoid the trip to Placerville.

One answer may be to allow juveniles and adults to be held in the same jail. California Senate Bill 2147 by Sen. Jim Brulte would do that by conforming state law to the federal standard.

Special rules would apply. The adults and juveniles wouldn’t be able to see each other, or talk to each other, and would have no physical contact.

The Brulte bill would allow Solaro’s officers to hold juveniles here. Introduced in February, SB 2147 will be heard first by the Senate Public Safety Committee on April 22.

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

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