About 20 officials tour former St. Lawrence County jail as facility is eyed for youth detention
Thursday, December 21, 2017 - 5:34 pm

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells shared information with state, local and regional officials during a tour of St. Lawrence County’s former jail Thursday. NorthCountryNow.com photo by Jimmy Lawton.

By JIMMY LAWTON

CANTON -- Nearly 20 local, regional and state officials attended a tour of St. Lawrence County’s former jail Thursday to assess if it could be remodeled as a state juvenile detention center.

The facility is being eyed by the state and marketed by the county as a potential location for a youth holding center as the state rolls out its Raise the Age Legislation.

The legislation will be phased in over time, raising the age of juvenile delinquency from age 16-years-old beginning on Oct.1, 2018, and subsequently raising the age of criminal responsibility to 17-years-old on Oct. 1, 2019.

This has raised concerns among North Country county leaders, who fear that there may not be a place to hold teens in need of imprisonment.

State officials in attendance included Assemblywoman Addie Jenne, and representatives from the Office of Children and Family Services, Department of Corrections and an engineer who was there to determine if transitioning the building into the needs of a juvenile detention center would be feasible.

Local members of the press were invited to tour the facility, however state officials did not offer comment on the matter. A briefing held after the tour was also closed to members of the press.

St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button said that during the closed meeting the state officials indicated they would provide an engineering assessment of the building to the county as soon as possible.

In the meantime the county will be working with other stakeholders to determine the best possible plan.

Deputy Administrator of Jefferson County Sarah Baldwin was among the regional representatives to join the tour.

She said counties are concerned about the lack of existing facilities to house minors and there is a concern that including 16-year-olds will make it difficult to ensure they have somewhere to go. She said she was pleased the state was looking at the old jail as the option as it would provide a central location for North Country teens to be confined.

Currently North Country minors in need of confinement are transported to Erie, Nassau or Broome counties.

A juvenile detention center in St. Lawrence County would service six counties throughout the North Country reducing travel expenses for neighboring counties and possibly providing a revenue stream and a significant number of jobs locally.

Assemblywoman Addie Jenne said St. Lawrence County is a great choice for a juvenile detention center as it already serves as home to many state facilities including a psychiatric center and three prisons. She said the county is centrally located in the North Country region.

“I think St. Lawrence County is the ideal location for a facility,” she said. “There is a lot of space here and this repurposing of the jail would be putting a community building back to use. If it meets the needs of the state, it’s a win-win for the taxpayers.”

Because the press was excluded from the debriefing, it is unclear how the state officials viewed the projects potential.

Among those who attended the tour from St. Lawrence County were legislators Joe Lightfoot, John Burke, Chairman Kevin Acres, County Administrator Ruth Doyle, Social Services Director Chris Rediehs, Sheriff Kevin Wells, Planner Jason Pfotenhauer and many others.

County officials are expected to share progress as discussions move forward.