A much-needed renovation of the Johnson Youth Center juvenile detention building may take longer than officials had hoped.
The Senate Finance Committee removed the $9.5 million capital improvement project from the state's fiscal year 2010 budget this week, which could further delay the renovation needed to bring the facility up to contemporary safety and security standards. The money had been allocated for the first phase of a proposed five-year, $17.6 million renovation to the aging building that was constructed as an adult jail in the late 1960s.
In summer 2007, the state conducted a study on the safety and security of Alaska's four oldest juvenile detention centers. The state recommended a significant renovation of JYC.
Superintendent Dennis H. Weston said the design of the detention building, used for short-term incarceration of juvenile offenders, is not efficient for the present needs.
"At the time it was built to handle adult offenders, adult female offenders, and the needs of at-risk juveniles are quite a bit different than adult female or male offenders in the '70s," he said.
The eight-bed facility was designed to hold multiple prisoners in each room, even though the building now houses only one juvenile per room, Weston said. It was designed with the idea that prisoners would spend the majority of their time locked inside their rooms.
"Juvenile justice works to develop relationships with at-risk kids and work with families so kids are out of rooms," he said. "So it is a safety concern when those units are not designed with very good supervision in mind."
Weston said there is poor visibility in the detention center, which creates safety issues for the offenders and staff. There also are inefficient door locks on the rooms and lack of space for processing incoming juveniles, he said.
The plan for the first phase of the of the renovation calls for creating eight detention rooms that open into a centralized dayroom for better visibility, as well as one observation cell and one intake cell that can be monitored by a workstation. It also calls for two classrooms, a medical suite and a detention space for an admissions area.
Weston said there is a great need for a renovated intake area. He said inefficient construction makes it more difficult for police officers to process a juvenile, and creates a potentially hazardous situation for officers and the offenders.
"We have the kids basically unloaded into an unsecured area, and if you have kids that are upset or you have families that are upset and following it, it's a high-risk situation," Weston said. "Plus, with the limited space inside the admit area, it takes additional time for the police to stay in the center and have to deal with the paperwork and have to deal with the kid possibly."
Staff often must deal with parents and families of the juveniles, and a newly renovated space would make it easier to control a stressful situation, he said.
"We'd like to be able to provide for them a little better and have a unit that is a little more open and a little more available and accessible to the community, and right now the physical structure just doesn't lend itself to that."
The renovation plan calls for four phases. Future renovation would upgrade the campus perimeter, remodel probation offices and add interview rooms, as well as establish a laundry facility and maintenance shop.
It is possible that the funding could still allocated for the renovation of JYC, but right now the plan appears to be on hold.
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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