Maybe it’s the change in the political sea, maybe it’s just desperation. But solutions are popping up everywhere for this region’s seeming inability to lock up juvenile criminals until they rape or kill someone.
Pend Oreille County is building three new juvenile cells in Newport and may start using them next month.
The Spokane County Juvenile Department, unable to convince voters to pony up $11 million for a 48-bed expansion, is working on a lessexpensive remodeling plan that would add 30 beds.
Meanwhile, state officials are warming up to Medical Lake Mayor Sharie Stearns’ proposal to open a regional juvenile detention center in an empty building on the Eastern State Hospital campus. The proposal could solve a severe shortage of juvenile detention cells throughout Eastern Washington.
“It looks like a go, and we can have some kind of a facility by the end of 1995,” Davenport Mayor Carr Killin, chairman of the Juvenile Justice Task Force of the Association of Northeast Washington Mayors, said of the Medical Lake proposal.
Killin and Stearns say that until last November, when Spokane County’s $11 million bond measure suffered its second defeat, state and Spokane County officials gave them the cold shoulder.
Now there is a growing belief that the mayors’ relatively low-cost proposal is feasible. State officials and representatives of Spokane, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln and Adams counties have expressed interest in the project. Officials say up to a dozen Eastern Washington counties might participate.
Until recently, regional leaders have been pessimistic that state and federal juvenile authorities would allow any project without the sort of price tag that caused Spokane County voters to choke.
But the closure last year of the Interlake School for the developmentally disabled, at Medical Lake, created an opportunity.
The school’s Martin Hall, built in 1934 as a 200-bed men’s ward for Eastern State Hospital, is an attractive brick building with about 22,000 square feet on two floors. Used in recent years for administrative offices and storage, the building is solid and well-maintained.
Steam heat, water, sewer, electrical and other services are provided by the Eastern State Hospital maintenance department.
Another advantage is that there may be less public resistance to a juvenile jail in Medical Lake, which already has two prisons and a state mental hospital. Spokane County ran into resistance when it proposed converting a former seminary in Colbert into a detention center, and developer Tom Beardslee met fierce opposition when he suggested a privately operated facility in Chewelah, Wash.
Best of all, task force members note, Martin Hall remodeling costs would be low because the building has few interior walls that would require demolition. Stearns said an architect made a rough estimate that a detention center with 100 minimum- to medium-security cells could be built for between $1 million and to $2 million.
The key to the new proposal will be the state’s willingness to provide Martin Hall at little or no cost. Killin said his regional task force will present its request to the Legislature in February.
“We should be able to reach an agreement that is satisfactory and mutually beneficial to all concerned and do so at minimal costs,” Gov. Mike Lowry told the group in a Nov. 10 letter.
Lowry also said the state may be interested in using a limited number of beds in the proposed minimum- to medium-security juvenile jail.
“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that these counties are able to put together some kind of a successful plan because they sure need it,” said Martin Keeling, regional administrator of the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration. Remodeling the building may be the
least of the task force’s problems.
“It’s a challenge for multiple jurisdictions like this to come together and operate a facility,” Keeling said. “Whoever runs it is going to have to be assured of a reliable budget.”
County officials around the area say they already have money for juvenile detention, but can’t spend it because no cells are available. However, Keeling speculated a regional detention center would require more operating money than the counties currently have budgeted.
He urged the task force to seek advice from juvenile court administrators in Spokane and Okanogan counties, which have the only detention centers in northeastern Washington. Keeling also urged the task force to pay close attention to federal guidelines so as not to risk losing vital federal funding.
Spokane County Juvenile Court Director Tom Davis said said the Martin Hall proposal “makes sense” and he is willing to work with the task force, but he knows little about the building.
“If Sharie and the surrounding counties can put the financial pieces together, Spokane County is interested,” Davis said.
But he said he’s focusing his attention on a plan to boot out state prisoners and add 30 cells to the Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center. The plan calls for remodeling the basement and other portions of the building to create 15 cells for offenders who would be sent home at night and another 15 maximumsecurity cells.
Davis said no cost estimate has been prepared, but he hopes to present a proposal to county commissioners in late February or early March.
The Spokane County plan could undermine the regional effort. Davis said officials in surrounding counties talk about needing 50 to 60 detention beds, but he believes they really need only eight to 10. He said Spokane County currently needs only 25 to 30 beds. “Unless the state is willing to pick up the bulk of those (100 proposed Martin Hall) beds, you’re going to have a hard time marketing that number of beds,” Davis said.
Task force leaders say they wouldn’t have to build all 100 cells at once, but they think the more likely prospect is that Spokane County would soon take all the available beds. Killin said that’s why task force members insist that Spokane County not be allowed to run the center.
Killin and Stearns envision a cooperative relationship in which Spokane County would send its less serious offenders to Martin Hall and let other counties rent maximumsecurity cells in the Spokane detention center.