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Juvenile Officials Ask State For Assistance

Rebuffed three times by voters, Spokane County juvenile justice officials are asking the state to foot the bill for a bigger detention center.

Their proposal calls for the state to build a 20-cell wing, expanding the maximum population of youths behind bars from 60 to about 95.

Officials with the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration in Olympia are meeting next week to study the proposal.

Construction costs are estimated at $2.45 million, with Spokane County offering to chip in slightly more than $100,000.

The state would not only build the wing but pay operating costs as well.

After 20 years, the expansion would revert to county ownership.

Juvenile Court Director Tom Davis, who prepared the two-page proposal June 5, is optimistic for two reasons: State-run juvenile institutions are overcrowded and there is an urgent need for maximum-security beds in Eastern Washington.

“The timing for a partnership is suddenly right,” Davis said, “because we’re both under a crunch.”

The joint construction effort would be unprecedented in Washington, and state officials are being cautious.

“At this point in time, we haven’t gotten any indication that it is even doable,” said Martin Keeling, Spokane-based regional administrator for the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.

“Frankly,” he added, “I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”

But Davis said it makes sense for the state to lay claim to as many detention center beds as possible.

Soaring numbers of juvenile arrests threaten to overwhelm the Mallon Avenue facility, forcing the county to reclaim beds that had been filled with young criminals committed to state institutions but serving sentences in Spokane.

The number of state-leased beds was recently chopped from 14 to nine.

There may be none available next year, Davis said.

Under the proposed partnership, 20 of 35 beds in the new wing would be under state control at a rate of $103 per day.

Davis said the expansion, coupled with electronic monitoring and other alternatives to detention, should meet the county’s needs for at least five years.

For years, crime victims and police have complained loudly about revolving doors in the juvenile system.Young criminals are often returned to the streets within hours of getting arrested because of a detention center bed shortage.

But Spokane County voters have rejected three bond issues aimed at enlarging the juvenile lockup since 1992. The last measure, defeated in November, sought $11 million to more than double the size of the facility.

Another problem facing the juvenile system is a shortage of prosecutors.

A backlog of thousands of unprosecuted cases was recently blamed for a sharp drop in the number of youths being detained.

Prosecutor Jim Sweetser responded earlier this month by replacing the juvenile unit supervisor and bringing in another deputy to attack the backlog.

Since then, the prosecution rate has increased, as has the detention center population, Davis said.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = William Miller Staff writer Staff writer John Craig contributed to this report.

Tags: crime