Lipke asks committee to reconsider Cape County detention center closing

Friday, April 22, 2011
The Cape Girardeau County Juvenile Center is one of six centers across the state of Missouri that will likely be closing its doors for budgetary reasons. (Laura Simon)

Associate Circuit Judge Scott Lipke is asking the state's circuit court budget committee to reconsider its decision to close the Cape Girardeau County Juvenile Detention Center, a move he says would put the area's juveniles at greater disadvantage as well as sabotage efforts to build a new center.

Lipke, who oversees the 32nd Judicial Circuit's juvenile courts, sent a four-page letter Tuesday to Judge Steven Ohmer, chairman of the committee that announced last week it was closing six of the state's juvenile detention centers, including the one in Cape Girardeau.

"It is my humble opinion that the best interests of the juveniles would not be served by closure of our detention center," Lipke wrote in the letter, which was copied to Missouri Supreme Court Justice William Price and several area legislators.

The center would close Jan. 1, unless the committee reverses its decision, and the 13 detention center employees will lose their jobs.

Ohmer, a judge in St. Louis, said Thursday he had received Lipke's letter, which he called "very thoughtful." Lipke's letter of appeal will be on the agenda for the commission's next meeting June 10, Ohmer said.

"We're going to look at this, we'll review it," Ohmer said. "We'll take a look, if people thought we missed something or whatever. But the committee made its decision. I guess it's probably as final as it could be. We looked at this pretty hard."

In the letter, Lipke writes that he understands the committee decided to close the centers based on four areas: the age and condition of each facility, the average daily population of the facility over a year, the percentage of full capacity at which the facility was occupied over a year and the proximity of the facility to other juvenile detention centers.

"There is no argument that our detention facility is dated and in need of various repairs," Lipke said.

He also concedes that the average daily population of three and yearly percentage capacity of about 30 percent is relatively low. But Lipke argues that the center is "almost being punished" for having low numbers, which is the court's goal -- to have fewer juveniles in detention.

Lipke hopes the commission will consider several factors -- that a new facility was in the hopper, that the center offers several other services other than detaining juveniles and that having low average daily numbers is indicative that the juvenile office staff is doing good work.

After talking about a new center to replace the 40-year-old center on Merriwether for more than a decade, the Cape Girardeau County Commission this year had set aside money to commission an architectural review, Lipke said.

"This decision couldn't have come at a worse time," Lipke said in an interview with the Southeast Missourian. "The county commission was poised to do something and then this happens."

The numbers that the budget committee looked at -- an average daily residency of three -- is misleading, Lipke said.

"We are not just talking about three juveniles being served on a daily basis," Lipke said. "The criteria used by the committee in making its decision does not appear to take into consideration the number of assessments taking place at the detention center or the other services being provided."

The center detained 408 juveniles in 2010. In addition, 85 juveniles come through the center each day reporting for probation drug test screening and 450 reported for community service work last year. The center also brought in and immediately referred 35 juveniles for hospitalization and psychiatric services over the same period.

Lipke said the juvenile office is already implementing programs that keep those numbers low, such as the GPS shackle program and drug court.

"That's what they're wanting -- fewer people in the facility," Lipke said. "So basically we're getting penalized because we're already achieving the results they want."

Lipke hopes his letter doesn't fall on deaf ears.

"My hope is it opens up a dialogue and see if there's any feasible way we can keep our facility open," Lipke said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

325 Merriwether St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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