Work Center Won’t House Juveniles

It was a clash of two visions on Friday.

One side saw young criminals working hard at a proposed work camp here, changing their lives. The other saw hooligans escaping from the prison with no fences.

Fear won out.

Idaho’s first juvenile work camp will not use the U.S. Forest Service’s Shoshone Work Center on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

So came the surprising announcement Friday from Michael T. Johnson, head of the new Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections.

“It would probably not be a good idea for public safety,” Johnson said. He appeared to give the news with reluctance.

“I’m elated,” said Mary Johnson, who lives about eight miles from the empty camp “These kids have already learned everything by 14. I don’t want them around my kid.”

But a juvenile work center must be built - probably somewhere in the 10 northern counties, Johnson told about 30 people at the Forest Service center Friday.

Idaho’s juvenile system is so crammed, the state sends 60 or so young inmates out of state, some as far away as Arizona.

The state’s taxpayers lost millions of dollars in savings by passing up on the Prichard site.

The Legislature has set aside $4.5 million to build a 50-bed juvenile work camp.

The Department of Juvenile Corrections envisions the camp as a place for young offenders to repay their debt to society. They will rise early. Labor might include painting out graffiti in neighboring towns, cleaning up flood damage or working in the parks, he said.

They would also get an education.

The Shoshone Work Center seemed the ideal place for the center, expected to house youths from the 10 northern counties.

Nestled amid pine-covered hills about 30 miles north of Interstate 90, the camp includes four barracks, a shop, a dining hall and an administration building.

Timber and fire crews used to bunk down there. The grounds have been virtually unused since the late 1970s.

Instead of saving millions of tax dollars by placing the juveniles at the Shoshone Work Camp, the state may have to build a new center.

The North Fork is popular with hunters and anglers. Residents feared escaping juveniles could easily steal knives and guns.

Mary Johnson said her 15-year-old daughter hikes in the area. “I would be afraid to let her run loose.”

Others were galled at the idea of letting young criminals enjoy such a beautiful place.

“This is one of the most pristine areas I know,” said Bob Belcher of Wallace. “To put a juvenile correction facility on land like this - no way. They’re there to be punished.”

Residents also worried that many of the offenders would be coming from outside Shoshone County.

A look at the juvenile detention center in Coeur d’Alene - which houses children from the five northern counties - shows that 23 of 27 juveniles there Friday were from Kootenai County. None was from Shoshone County.

Other Shoshone County residents said opponents to the work camp were melodramatic.

“A small number of people made enough noise,” said Mike Smith, juvenile probation officer for Shoshone County.

“I’m not afraid of them. I don’t think anyone should be,” he said. “I just think they need some structure in their lives.”

Smith would like to see a work camp somewhere in Shoshone County. It would keep juvenile offenders closer to their families and save North Idaho counties transportation money, he said.

The state will keep seeking a site for the juvenile work center.

“Many of these kids have screwed up,” Johnson said. “But they have good hearts.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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