By Deb Murphy

Inyo County has been moving toward closing Juvenile Center as a 24/7 facility and using the cost savings to provide more services to more at-risk families. Probation and Health and Human Services will both be providing important elements to the plan that includes a Resource Center, a sort of one-stop shop for a broad range of services to both families and adults currently on probation.

The trend that initiated the idea of eliminating a 24/7 facility is a good thing: fewer kids are being remanded to the Center. The population, once in the teens, has dropped to three to six on any given day. The trend is not unique to Inyo County.

Another trend is early intervention to prevent or reduce juvenile issues. Start with young families by providing specific services.

Probation Chief Jeff Thomson brought the Board of Supervisors up to date Tuesday on the Juvenile Center’s conversion to a Special Purpose facility. H&HS will hold an update on their plan to provide additional services and programs from a Resource Center sometime in late May. While the Board has not voted on the overall approach, the hypothetical deadline to close Juvenile Hall is July 1, the beginning of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The focus of the change will be converting Juvenile Hall to a week-end facility for adjudicated youth. Those youth will spend the week at home, attend a court school and then return to Juvey over the weekend. Thomson discussed the protocol for that conversion. The County Office of Education has taken the first step in moving the court school, Keith Bright, to its Jill Kinmont Boothe School facility, pending the Board’s final vote.

But, questions remain as to the effectiveness of a court school outside the structure of a Juvenile Hall. The Office of Ed contracts with Bishop Unified School District to run the facility. Teacher Angela Scott brought some of her concerns to Tuesday’s board meeting. “My concern is what will happen to students who have been very successful where they are now,” she said. She noted some of the contradictory information on the plan. “We were told there would be daily drug testing and ankle monitors,” she said. “Then we were told that wasn’t going to happen.”

The best spokesperson for the current model is a juvenile’s article that appeared in the local newspaper. “Inyo County Juvenile Center is a healthy environment for minors. Many teens have been able to greatly improve not only their bodies but also their health…. Under the direction of the Probation Department, the staff provides teens in their care with essential skills that they’ll be able to use to be successful following their release…. For some students, remaining at ICJC and Keith Bright is their opportunity to concentrate on their studies and graduate. Eight students have earned their diplomas during the last two years…. ICJC is more than a place to lock away troubled teens. It is a place where minors are treated with respect and given the opportunity to grow and mature, to learn and succeed, to become healthy in mind and body.”

The County’s CEO Kevin Carunchio’s response to Scott’s concerns was “this is interesting information, but it’s not our decision,” referring to the fact the court school comes under the auspices of the Office of Education.

Supervisor Dan Totheroh didn’t agree. “Our decision will have impacts,” he said. “Will the weekend facility meet the needs of these kids? Our goal is the best outcome for these kids, to turn their lives around.”

One of the driving factors,” said Thomson, “is to keep these kids in (the Center) to get their high school diploma.” Thomson added that if the Center goes to a Special Purpose, or 96-hour facility, there is no requirement to provide an education element. The 96-hour limit is based on the requirement that juveniles cannot be out of school for more than 96 hours. “The County’s not in the education business,” he said.

In an interview shortly after presenting the option of moving the court school and the juvenile Resource Center to JKBS, County Superintendent Terry McAteer described a 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. environment for adjudicated youth with staffing provided by BUSD. At that time, ankle monitors were part of the plan as were culinary programs, art and music and recreational programs. “The kids can’t help but be successful,” he said. The day reporting center would provide counseling options and other services and programs.

The schools staff just wants some of the questions and logistics thought out and in place prior to a decision.

Thomson did have answers to questions regarding converting the Center to a Special Purpose facility, how to deal with the required maximum 72-hour hold on juvenile detainees and sending those requiring a 24/7 facility out of the area.

The conversion process is fairly simple. The County provides written notification of the intent to the Board of State Community Corrections including the plan, time-line and how the facility will meet staffing requirements.

The conversion may be simple, but the devil’s in the details, like what you do when law enforcement makes an arrest of a juvenile on a week day with a maximum 72-hours before the arrestee goes to court. Probation is notified and takes custody on a juvenile arrest. The court then makes its decision on detention or the terms for release.

So what happens between the time of arrest and the court date? Some of the options Thomson outlined included house arrest with electronic monitoring, GPS monitoring, a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor device or the County’s WRAP program, placement within the arrestee’s family or community. Or, the juvenile could be immediately transported to an out-of-county facility.

According to Thomson, the Center had 42 intakes during the 2014-15 fiscal year.

With the downward trend in juvenile detention, out-of-county placement is the easiest piece of the puzzle. According to Thomson’s report, contact was made with facilities in El Dorado, Tulare and Kern counties with El Dorado demographics most compatible with Inyo and the least expensive at $70 a day or $25,550 per year per bed if Inyo opts to reserve that space. Probation is also looking into facilities in Tuolomne and Nevada counties.

Probation staff changes connected with the conversion of Juvenile Center are still being worked out, Thomson said. “We’re hoping to iron out the issues. We may not be able to iron them all out.”

The Board directed staff to notify the BSCC of the intent to convert Juvenile Center to a Special Purpose facility and to develop agreements for out-of-county placements.

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