County may move juvenile detention

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EPHRATA — Grant County commissioners are considering a proposal to relocate the county’s juvenile detention facility to Martin Hall in Spokane County’s Medical Lake.

“We are reviewing it for efficiencies,” Commissioner Richard Stevens told the Columbia Basin Herald. “It was made and staffed for 20, and it normally houses three to 12 young people.”

Stevens said the facility averages around seven juvenile inmates — far fewer than it was designed for.

In a packed public meeting last week, commissioners solicited public opinion on the idea of moving the county’s youth detention facility.

Commissioner Chair Cindy Carter said the commissioners have not made a decision yet, though they are looking at a way to cut costs, and moving to Martin Hall presents that possibility.

Carter said the current facility costs around $364 per day ($133,000 per year) for each inmate, while Martin Hall would cost the county between $178-$200 per day ($65,000-$73,000 per year) for each inmate — including transportation costs.

“Eight people at Martin Hall at $200 per day would cost the county $584,000 per year,” Carter said. “That’s a saving of $484,000. There are other costs, and other savings, and that’s a rough estimate.”

Carter said the county isn’t planning on closing Juvenile Services, just contemplating moving the detention portion out of the county.

“We will still have services and staff,” she said.

Most of those who spoke were opposed, saying it would not help troubled young people to be so far away from home, family, and the people most able to help them, and it would also impose tremendous costs on their families.

“Having youth 115 miles away one way at Medical Lake is a big deal to indigent families,” said Corey Stephens, a juvenile detention manager in Grant County.

Stephens said the distance would also make ongoing relationships with counselors and probation officers a great deal more difficult, and also present planning problems for young people nearing the end of the sentences.

“How is it feasible to formulate any kind of meaningful transition planning” for someone so far away, Stephens asked.

“How horrible for families, having to drive that long distance” said Ephrata resident Jody Froebe. “We should not put kids or parents through this. It’s too difficult; kids would lose out. I’d rather pay more in taxes.”

“I’ve learned a lot today just hearing the comments,” said Commissioner Tom Taylor. “That’s what we’re here for today, to hear what the community and staff input is. We need that to make a decision one way or the other.”

Martin Hall is a 63-bed facility operated by Montana-based non-profit Community, Counseling, and Correctional Services, Inc., and is one of 12 facilities — juvenile and adult — the company runs in Montana, Washington and North Dakota. Martin Hall is overseen by a board made up of officials from the nine-county consortium — Douglas, Spokane, Ferry, Lincoln, Adams, Stevens, Whitman, Pend Oreille, and Asotin.

Commissioner Stevens told the Columbia Basin Herald that a number of counties across the country are having to consolidate or close juvenile facilities.

“We’re just not sending as many youth, and they aren’t offending as much,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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