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Moving minors into jail

Christina Proctor

Douglas County planners hope that by July 1 a previously underutilized section of the Stateline jail will be converted to a secure juvenile detention facility and ready for at least 10 juveniles.

Construction bids on the project will be opened at 2 p.m. today in Minden. Ray Finnegan, detention supervisor for the yet to be built facility, said the bids will be reviewed at the April 16 Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting.

“We are anticipating approval by the commissioners and hope construction will begin by April 25,” Finnegan said.

The commissioners unanimously approved the proposal for converting the east wing of the Lake Tahoe substation jail, which was originally built for a greater number of adult inmates than realized, at the Oct. 16 meeting. The plan calls for converting two existing cell blocks in the east wing to accommodate male juvenile detainees and building 5 more cells in a now empty room for females. The juveniles will share a multi-purpose room for dining and educational activities.

Finnegan said although there will be renovations to the east wing to make the facility more hospitable to juveniles there is no escaping the fact that it is a jail.

“I envision this facility being used for the more serious offender or for a juvenile in for a long term,” Finnegan explained. “I hoping this will perhaps be a wake up call for some kids. We can paint the walls with murals and make some changes but I cannot change the fact that this is a jail.”

Finnegan is also planning on offering the juveniles some cutting edge educational technology. He has received four donated computers and is hoping for at least 10 more.

“I have the educational software I just need the computers to run it on,” Finnegan said.

According to the original proposal, the total operating cost for the first full year is estimated at $489,475. Planners say some of that cost will be offset by selling 8 spots of the 15-bed facility to other counties. Douglas would charge $80 per day to house other counties’ offenders. Officials also estimate a $168,000 savings from not having to send juveniles to Carson City for detention, although they still expect some exchange between the two facilities.

Finnegan said he expects the lake center to be at full capacity within the first 90 days of operation.

“We have a grave situation statewide. There are only five juvenile facilities in the state,” Finnegan explained. “I’ve already received calls from as far away as Henderson asking when the facility will be open.”

The only reason a juvenile facility could be considered in the same building as incarcerated adults is a change in federal law. The law came about from the inability of many local governments to build and operate an adequate juvenile detention center, and allows for juveniles and adults to be “co-located” as long as several conditions are met.

Sight and sound contact with adult inmates is prohibited. Adults and juveniles can share nonresidential areas of a facility at different times as long as procedures don’t allow contact between the two.

The jail’s covered exercise yard will be jointly used by the adult and juvenile inmates. Finnegan said the Douglas County plan has been reviewed by at the federal level and approved.

California state law has not changed to match the federal so El Dorado and Alpine Counties will be unable to use the new facility. El Dorado County has felt the crunch of too few bed spaces for too many juveniles for several years. The Placerville center was last expanded in 1981. The 40-bed facility was chronically overcrowded in 1995-96 with numbers spiking to 53 on occasion. When a juvenile court order issued May, 9, 1996, barring misdemeanor bookings by local law enforcement, failed to have the desired effect the judges order a population cap of 40 juveniles.

The probation department then began relying more heavily upon a county-wide electronic house arrest program for juvenile offenders and some violators had their sentences shortened as was necessary to keep the population at the proper level. When even that’s not enough,

Ken Cater, chief probation officer for El Dorado County, said the department starts to let kids out.

“We reshuffle the deck the best we can,” Cater said. “We may furlough some kids out for a weekend who have been in detention for awhile and have been successful in their programs.”

El Dorado also uses costly out-of-county boys’ ranches around California, Cater said.

The lack of space frustrates many law enforcement officers whom often have to cite and release juveniles to their parents who they feel might be better served by time in juvenile hall.

Anyone wishing to donate computers or furniture for the new Douglas County Detention Facility can contact Finnegan at (702) 586-7218.

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

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