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New Juvenile Hall In The Spotlight At Supervisors’ Meeting

Sonora, CA – Those hankering to hear cost efficiencies in place at the new Mother Lode Juvenile Detention Facility to justify its existence instead got a bigger picture view to ponder: how the new resource might actually make a difference in the years and generations to come.

At Tuesday’s meeting, as the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors was preparing to hear Chief Probation Officer Linda Downey present her department’s first quarterly report on the new facility during a specially scheduled 1:30 p.m. appointment, two special guests showed up to preface it at the invitation of Board Chair and District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan.

Taking the podium, Superior Court Judge Donald Segerstrom spoke briefly with heartfelt gratitude about the new hall, which broke ground in 2015 and, after a series of construction-related issues, officially opened on April 10. Thanking the present and past boards for having the vision and the wisdom to pursue and complete the project through challenging budget times that are still ongoing, he pointed out that juvenile offenders all too easily become “out of sight, out of mind” when transported to far away counties; many do not have sufficient facilities to focus on their rehabilitation as is intended by juvenile court law.

Hall Helping Deter High Suicide Rate

“There are kids who come through my court who, if I did not have the resource of the juvenile hall, they would literally be out there killing themselves,” Judge Segerstrom emphasized. “One of the reasons you can detain the juvenile is for the juvenile’s protection…and I have done that on many occasions.” Adding that the independent Justice Commission members were recently sworn in, are receiving state training and scheduled to meet next on August 10, he also shared that he would shortly be attending an inmate’s graduation at the onsite Gold Ridge Education Center.

Echoing the judge’s comments, District Attorney Laura Krieg added it was her perspective that juvenile crime and incarcerations come in waves. While there may presently be lower numbers within the facility, she said, it is still early in its existence. Too, due to the fact that no public information relating to juvenile probation cases is publicly released, they generally remain off the public radar.

Sharing one example, she pointed to the thwarted shooting plot in 2015 at Summerville High that resulted in the housing of four juveniles in Nevada County, which racked up what she described as “tremendous” costs for the county in legal and other supportive program and travel provisions for their attorneys and other personnel. Not to mention, she added, there were additional difficulties involved with ensuring that the families involved were able to remain a part of the process.

Sharing Key Stats, Costs

Downey shared that county trends show that, since 2013, arrest and citation rates have steadily dropped. In 2013 her department handled 218 total reports of which there were 142 arrests/citations. From January through June of this year there have been 53 reports with 33 arrests/citations. While admitting it difficult to point to a single reason, Downey hypothesized that the county’s multi-agency approach, which also involves the County Education Department as a partner, is working. She also pointed to county programs such as libraries, the arts, and recreation as part of the equation.

As for beds in use, Downey reported that the facility started on April 10 with two youth whose average stay that month was 21 days. By May, the number increased up to five youth and 108 bed days with an average daily population of over four. For June, she reported ten unique youth for a total of 180 bed days and an over five-day average length of stay. She compared that with average out-of-county probation stays in 2015, which were just over 11 youth with the average length stay of just over 19 days; 2016 figures averaged nine youth with average length of stay just over 20 days.

Her financial overview for FY 2015-16 actuals listed probation placements at $463,149 and $19,107 in facilities costs, due to some staff hiring, for a cost total of $482,256. Budgeted probation costs for FY 2016-17 were $91,368 with facility costs of $986,630; however, actuals were $126,198, due to delayed hall’s opening for three months, with facility costs of $792,623, totaling $918,821. For FY 2017-18 to date, Downey reported $35,000 in probation costs and $1,127,584 in facility costs, totaling $1,162,584.

County Auditor/Controller Debi Bautista, who worked with Downey on what numbers to present, nixed including much in the way of operational cost analysis, as many one-time costs in 2016-17 during the construction phase skewed the numbers. “We get too hung up on budget, we have to look at actuals — daily costs — and we chose not to include those numbers because they tell too wide of a story right now,” Bautista explained. At the end of the presentation, the supervisors concurred that they would prefer to see another analysis when there are six more months of figures to crunch.

Beyond The Numbers, Breaking Cycles

More than a detention center, Downey described the new facility as a treatment center that holds youth accountable and gives them tools; an education center that is second to none; a therapist who uses a trauma approach; an involved medical team and dedicated staff. “We are now wrapping community services around each youth,” she emphasized, adding that the families are engaged and involved. “Since April 10, we have had 46 family visitation events with a total of 60 participants –- that is rare when children are staying out of the area,” she remarked.

Juvenile Detention Facility Mike Arndt passionately articulated that the new hall and its related programs are helping provide a proactive — if more of a pay now or pay later way — to more effectively break generational cycles of what he called social super users of the system who continue to victimize others.

Reflecting this point in Downey’s presentation was a state estimated societal cost of not addressing rehabilitative needs early on: $292,000 over one juvenile’s lifetime. It was a number echoed by various supervisors in their comments and mildly refuted by District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt, who opined that the number was probably even too low.