Juvenile justice

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Only two teenagers were incarcerated the day the Cape Girardeau County Juvenile Detention Center held its recent open house, the kind of number that precipitated the county's decision a few years ago not to build a bigger center. Last year, the center housed about 400 juveniles but held most only three days or less.

The center at 317 Merriwether St. in downtown Cape Girardeau has 10 cells.

But four years ago, the county was planning to build a 38-bed building that would have cost $4.3 million.

At that time, the county was advised that the detention center needed more space and safety improvements. The Cape Girardeau County Commission bought land for a site and employed an architect.

Eventually the commission decided to scale back the plan over concerns about costs. Ultimately, the commission balked at the project entirely.

Contending the prisoner census did not merit construction of a larger center, the commission instead decided to pay for improvements to the existing center, a decision that was challenged by judges and juvenile authorities in the 32nd Judicial Circuit. The Missouri Judicial Finance Commission ruled that there was no need for a new detention center in Cape Girardeau.

The problem with the center now is its inability to take in girls because of its small size. Girls are sent to a detention center in Mississippi County, which undoubtedly makes a stressful situation harder for both them and their families.

The cost of adding facilities to house girls would be justified only if the cost of sending them out of county -- including the expense of transportation back and forth for hearings -- adds up to more than the cost of adequate facilities.

Based on what visitors saw during the open house, it appears that need is still sometime well into the future.

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