Juvenile center back in operation

Thursday, December 13, 2001

The Cape Girardeau County juvenile detention center reopened Wednesday equipped with $35,000 in improvements, including the installation of electronic locks on cell doors to improve fire safety.

Five juveniles were brought back from the Mississippi County detention center, and three more were expected to be housed there by day's end.

The 30-year-old center in Cape Girardeau had been closed since August after a 16-year-old girl started a fire in her cell. Two judges and the chief juvenile officer in the local judicial circuit closed the detention center after Michael Morgan, Cape Girardeau fire marshal, cited safety concerns.

The county commission decided to renovate the center and address those concerns rather than continue to pay $60 a day to house juveniles in detention centers in other counties.

Morgan said after the Aug. 14 fire that the girl and other juveniles housed at the center could have died of smoke inhalation if officers hadn't acted quickly.

The judges -- circuit court judge John Grimm and juvenile judge Peter Statler -- agreed this week to reopen the center after being assured by Randy Rhodes, chief juvenile officer, that the improvements have made the center a safer place.

The new electronic locks replace manually operated sliding bolts and make it easier and faster to get the juvenile detainees out in the event of a fire in the 10-cell unit.

"They have made some substantial improvements," Morgan said after inspecting the renovated detention center on Merriwether Street.

The improvements include a backup generator, better emergency lighting and fire-resistant mattresses.

Other improvements are security measures. They include razor-wire on the recreation yard fence to prevent juveniles from escaping, one-piece metal beds bolted to the floor and the addition of a metal detector to screen juveniles and visitors.

Hand searches already are conducted when juveniles are brought into the center, said Randy Rhodes, chief juvenile officer.

Worn carpet has been removed from a hallway and an interrogation room, and tile soon will be installed. Rhodes said the worn carpet was a security concern because juveniles could hide contraband under it.

Judges and juvenile department officials in the 32nd Judicial Circuit have been pushing for a new, 32-bed detention center that could cost up to $4.3 million. The Cape Girardeau County Commission contends the center is unnecessary and is balking at budgeting for one.

The matter of whose right it is to allocate the money for such a center, the judges or the commission, is before the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission. It is unknown when commissioners will rule on the matter.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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