Commission pays for assessment of county juvenile system

Friday, March 7, 2003

By Bob Miller

Southeast Missourian

The Cape Girardeau County Commission may not have gotten the results it wanted from a final assessment of the 32nd Judicial Circuit's juvenile justice system, but the study has been paid for.

The study cost $61,000, half of which was paid for out of the juvenile center budget and the other half from federal grants. The county recently paid the final installment of a little more than $5,000 to Huskey & Associates, Inc.

Commissioner Joe Gambill, the commission's point man on the juvenile center issue, said earlier the final report did not answer several of the commission's questions on various details. However, he also said the preliminary report did give the commission the only two answers it needed: the number of cells needed in 10 years, 13, and information regarding detention alternatives.

When asked to expound upon his unanswered questions at Thursday's commission meeting, Gambill declined to comment.

The issue of the detention center has come to a standstill after two years of bickering between the commission, circuit court judges and juvenile center officials.

The matter was not brought up by the commission on Thursday.

When asked about the issue by a reporter at the meeting, presiding commissioner Gerald Jones reiterated his earlier comments that he is not interested in pursuing the matter any more. He said he'd rather be doing anything else than arguing with judges about a detention center.

"Anything," he said. "Whether it be taking my wife out for dinner or even taking a shower. I'd rather do anything than argue about that."

The final report indicated that maintaining the status quo could be costly to the county. The report estimates that the three counties in the Circuit would have to pay $5.2 million over 10 years to operate the current 10-bed detention center and continuing to transport youth to other jurisdictions.

The report, conducted by Bobbie Huskey of Huskey & Associates of Chicago, says the current center is inadequate and deteriorating and that "there are so many deficiencies in the existing physical plant that it will be costly and thus not feasible."

It says in order to bring the current facility up to current standards and to meet future projections, a total of 67 spaces must be upgraded or built new. The current facility, the report says, also puts county officials at risk of litigation on the grounds of unsafe conditions, unequal treatment and failure to protect youth, staff and the public.

Huskey failed to return three messages left at her Chicago office.

County commissioners insist the center, which opened in 1974 and cost $167,000 to build, is safe. It has been upgraded over the past two years with electronic cell locks, a metal detector, fire-resistant mattresses, bolted metal tables and benches in visiting rooms and the day room, secure slots in cell doors for passing food; and razor wire on the recreation yard fence.

A divided commission hired the consultant in 2002 on a 2-to-1 vote. Commissioner Larry Bock voted against it, saying it was a waste of money.

As for the nine acres of land that was purchased at the end of Progress Street in Cape Girardeau for an earlier-proposed center that has since been nullified as a result of the hostilities between the parties involved, Jones said he'd like to see the county keep it.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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