Kootenai County officials are courting a state juvenile work center that would house underage criminals north of Hayden near the airport.
A similar effort in Shoshone County was abandoned last year after dozens of residents there expressed fear that juveniles would escape and steal knives and rifles from a popular nearby hunting area.
State officials point out the youths housed in the 50-bed center would not be violent offenders. But the state also learned from last year’s failed effort.
This time, Kootenai County would have to guarantee community support before getting the $4 million building.
“We’re making them (the county) responsible for contacting everyone in the vicinity and telling them, ‘This is what it’s for, this is what the kids would do,’ … that sort of thing,” said Bill Overton, spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Corrections.
County officials hope to sell the idea but aren’t sure what to expect from area residents. The proposed site is about 10 acres off Miles and Atlas roads - more than a half-mile from the nearest home.
“Other parts of the country are fighting over these things,” said Greg Delavan, Coeur d’Alene Airport manager. “But being that these are the rehabilitatable kids and not the hardened criminals, that ought to make it more attractive. And it’s not in someone’s back yard.”
Idaho has a juvenile detention hall in the tiny southeastern town of St. Anthony, and the state has money earmarked for a new center geared toward rehabilitating less-serious child criminals.
The state wants to locate the building in North Idaho, where there are no state juvenile centers.
“It would be a work camp, a place where they can work and learn,” Overton said. “A lot of these kids come from homes where they don’t get those skills.”
Kootenai County is competing with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and at least one other county, all of which are interested in the additional jobs generated by the $2.2 million-a-year operation. Lease payments to the county alone would generate about $31,000 a year.
Attempts to reach tribal members were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Overton and Kootenai County Administrator Tom Taggart say Coeur d’Alene’s population base and proximity to businesses and social agencies could give it an edge over other sites.
“One of the considerations is to keep the kids closer to home, and most of the kids would be from here,” Taggart said.
Overton said the state is more interested in a central site - near laundry, businesses and grocers - rather than a wilderness location.
“They’re there because they committed some act, not because they’re on vacation,” he said. “It’s not a summer camp.”
But all of those involved agree the biggest question will be community reaction.
A move last year to put the same center on a U.S. Forest Service site 30 miles north of Prichard earned howls of protest from Silver Valley residents.
They pointed to an April 1995 incident near Weiser, Idaho, in which two teens walked away from a juvenile holding facility and allegedly shot a Forest Service engineer.
State officials contend youths in the North Idaho facility would be ones who want to return to being functioning members of society. Those kids don’t run away.
“We’ll just have to see what kind of response we get when people hear about it,” Taggart said.
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