St. Lawrence County working on plan to establish juvenile detention center in Canton-Potsdam area
By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- St. Lawrence County will submit a plan to establish a secure juvenile detention center by April 1 in order to meet the needs of the state’s raise the age legislation.
The legislation will raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age. New York was previously one of only two states that automatically prosecuted 16-and-17-year-olds as adults.The new measures will be phased in over time, raising the age of juvenile delinquency from age 16-to 17-years-old beginning on Oct. 1, 2018, and subsequently raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18years-old on Oct. 1, 2019.
Under the new law young people will no longer be permitted to be housed in adult facilities or jails. Instead they are to be placed in specialized juvenile detention facility certified by the State’s Office of Children and Family Services, and in conjunction with the State’s Commission of Correction.
This creates a major problem for North Country Counties where there are currently no beds for juvenile criminals.
County Attorney Stephen Button said the county is expecting an influx of teens who will need to be housed in juvenile facilities. He said his office handled 38 cases in 2016, but expects that number to rise to 112.
Without a juvenile detention facility in the area, the county will be forced to transport juvenile detainees to Western New York or New York City.
To address this issue the county proposed rehabilitating the old county jail into a juvenile detention center, but state officials who toured the building said the old jail would likely be cost prohibitive.
Now the county is pivoting its plan and looking at building a new facility in the Canton or Potsdam area instead. According the Raise the Age legislation, such a facility would be paid for by the state as would the numerous jobs created by establishing the facility.
Over the past few months St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button and Administrator Ruth Doyle have been meeting with officials in surrounding counties that will also need a place to house juvenile detainees.
According to Button, surrounding counties have been receptive of establishing a detention center in St. Lawrence County, as it is centrally located in the North Country region and would provide a massive savings in transportation costs.
At recent county meeting St. Lawrence County Chairman Kevin Acres established a committee to develop a plan for the creation and administration of a secure juvenile detention facility. The committee includes legislators John Burke, Joseph Lightfoot, Donald Hooper and Acres.
The committee will be responsible for establishing site selection, development, engineering, construction and staffing needs for the detention center. Submitting the plan would allow the county to be eligible for state reimbursement, should the facility come to fruition.
The state has budget $100 million to help establish the facilities across the state.