Cape Girardeau County officials discuss replacing juvenile detention center

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cape Girardeau County officials agree the aging juvenile detention facility needs to be replaced but are unsure about the solution.

The Cape Girardeau County Juvenile Detention Center at 325 Merriwether St. is nearly 40 years old and the oldest center of its kind in the state. The center has repeatedly been cited by juvenile court officials as inadequate for housing youth offenders.

On Thursday, county commissioners discussed the idea of whether the facility should be rebuilt or moved to another location.

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said the idea is only in the exploratory stages but that one option could be rebuilding the center at its current location. But doing so, he said, would involve moving the youth offenders to Mississippi County during construction. That option could be costly for both the county and for parents or guardians visiting their children.

The county already transports girls to Mississippi County when boys must be detained because the Cape Girardeau center cannot safely house both genders. Mississippi County is the closest such facility that has separate detention areas.

"Now we would have to transport the boys down there too while the center is built," Jones said. "It will be doggone expensive."

In its 2010 budget proposal, the 32nd Judicial Court Juvenile Division listed 17 examples of the facility's inadequacy. They include a leaky roof, mold from the leak, small classrooms, a shower area outside of the facility that poses a security risk, no room to segregate suicidal inmates and a lack of holding cells for violent youths.

Chief juvenile officer Randy Rhodes said he would like a new facility to include a secure holding area for drug treatment services, a classroom and an internal court area that would reduce security risks currently involved when an inmate is transferred in and out of the detention center for court.

Rhodes estimates that each year between 300 and 350 youths ages 12 to 16 stay in the 10-bed facility.

Because the new juvenile center is still only an idea, Jones said speculating on the construction costs and means of financing would be premature.

First District Commissioner Paul Koeper said a new facility may should resemble the Boone County Juvenile Justice Center. The structure's features are all on one level, as opposed to additional levels he said could prove more costly.

"We won't be able to afford the Taj Mahal," Koeper said. "So we have to bring this down to something that's functional."

Jones instructed Rhodes to develop a detailed plan of laws, regulations, cells, costs and other factors that should be considered for a new juvenile detention facility. Jones said there is no timeline on when Rhodes should report his findings to the commission.

Thursday's meeting is not the first time the commission has discussed building a new center.

In 2000, Cape Girardeau County bought land at the end of Progress Street in an industrial area west of Kingshighway as a future site for a new juvenile center. A year later, architect Tom Holshouer was drawing up final plans for a 40,000-square-foot facility that would have included offices and a juvenile courtroom.

But that project was put on hold in September 2001 after the county commission said it wasn't ready to spend millions of dollars when at least half the cells at the center sat empty earlier in the year. And in January 2002, the governments of Bollinger, Cape Girardeau and Perry counties said they couldn't afford more than a $2 million bond issue for the center, which was estimated to have cost $3.5 million.

At the time, Jones said that while the three-county juvenile department budget could afford such a bond issue, that still wouldn't provide a 38-cell building that circuit judges and Rhodes wanted.

In June 2002 a dispute between the counties and the circuit court over a new center went before the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission. In its ruling, the finance commission said no need existed for a new detention center in Cape Girardeau but that the county had to come up with $470,726.72 each year to create a shared fiscal responsibility with the juvenile facility.

Each year, the unused portion is returned to the county's general revenue fund.

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

Pertinent addresses:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

325 Merriwether St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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