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Juvenile detention facility to close
September 23, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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The Scotts Bluff County Detention facility closes in late October with only one juvenile member left.

A day after the Scotts Bluff County Board of Commissioners voted not to renew its agreement with Wyoming to house that state’s juvenile offenders in the county jail, the board announced on Sept. 20 the juvenile section of the county detention center will close indefinitely as of midnight, Sept. 23.

The county board had closed the juvenile section temporarily this past summer. At the time, there were only five juveniles in a facility that could house 33. So the county decided to move the juveniles to other facilities and use the space to house some of the inmates from the overcrowded adult section. But closing the juvenile section last May created its own problems. The juveniles had to be sent to one of only three other facilities, all in eastern Nebraska. Those centers charged in the $200 to $300 a day range to house each of the county’s juveniles.

The closure also created difficulty for attorneys who had to travel long distances to meet with their clients. In addition, juvenile offenders had to be transported back to Scotts Bluff County for court appearances, which increased the overall cost of housing.

Plus, ancillary services such as education and behavioral health services the county had contracted for were no longer available.

On Sept. 7 the juvenile section was reopened as the county said it would be more cost effective to keep the juveniles here. But as of this week, only one person is being housed in the juvenile section.

County Board Chairman Mark Masterton said the decision came after the county had to house about 76 other adult detainees in facilities across the state, at a cost of about $3,500 a day for each of them. Because there was a limited need for juvenile incarceration, the county board decided the space could better be used to house adults.

By bringing back some of the adult detainees currently housed in other facilities, the county estimated it could save $1,350 a day.

Masterton said that even with bringing back some 30 adult detainees, the county detention center still faces overcrowding conditions.

That means the county will still need to budget for its prisoners that remain in other facilities.

In the longer term, the county will need to build additional cells onto the current facility. Masterton said the county is researching the data and talking with architects to see what can be done.

“It’s going to cost us, but we anticipate using the money we’d otherwise spend on housing prisoners elsewhere to help pay the cost of additional housing,” Masterton said.

The need for additional space in the detention center is what Masterton called a “calculated guess.” In 2004 the old county jail behind the courthouse had 64 beds. The new jail, completed 10 years ago, was almost triple in size at 186 beds.

“A reasonable person would say the new jail would be large enough,” he said. “The new facility filled up in four years. We hadn’t projected our prisoner population would have grown almost three times. All the statistics at the time indicated we might have overbuilt with the new jail. But right now, we’re making plans to build another pod onto the jail the most economical way we can.”
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