St. Lawrence County's juvenile detention plan stalled, but young offenders increasing
By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- With plans to build a youth detention center in St. Lawrence County stalled, officials have submitted a plan to the state to deal with expected uptick in juvenile offenders focusing on alternatives to incarceration.
Raise the Age Legislation will increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age.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, and subsequently raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years 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 facilities certified by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, and in conjunction with the state’s Commission of Correction.
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 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.
But other options are also being discussed. All of the options would include a significant increase in staffing
The situation has been a concern for St. Lawrence County legislators who have been working toward a solution that will be affordable to taxpayers, but as it stands nothing has been firmed up. Officials from the county visited Albany in March to submit plan, which remains in draft form and hasn’t been shared publicly.
St. Lawrence County Administrator Ruth Doyle said she and other officials met with state representatives in April to discuss the plan.
“While there was some brief discussion regarding the potential for a juvenile detention center in St. Lawrence County, the majority of the discussion focused on the Planning Guide and alternatives to incarceration that would be expanded to meet the needs,” she said. “The State Team indicated that the County Planning Guide submitted by the County was excellent in its current state with no objections to the current costs or anticipated expenditures,” she said.
Doyle said the main biggest concern with establishing a juvenile detention center in the county is the lack of assurance that the costs would be absorbed by the state.
“If there were opportunities for the funding to ensure that St. Lawrence County taxpayers are not exclusively held fiscally responsible for the Center, I believe there would be serious consideration given to locating a center in the County,” she said.
Doyle said the state believed the emphasis on the Alternatives to Incarceration, as an alternative to development of a Judicial Detention Center, was appropriate and the transition plan was well thought out, but details on the plan have not been made publically available.
Currently the estimated cost to implement the measures is around $3 million. Submitting the plan enables the county to be eligible for state reimbursement, should the facility or an alternative come to fruition.
“It is anticipated that within the next three months, the Fiscal Comprehensive Plan document will be released by the New York State Division of Budget. The Fiscal Comprehensive Plan document will merge the Planning Guide components previously submitted, with justifications as to demonstrate the need for the requests made in the Local Planning Guide to implement the Raise the Age legislation,” Doyle said. “Assuming it is acceptable, the Division of Budget will approve the spending and reimbursement with the County, and the County may begin to expend money and seek reimbursement under the Raise the Age Plan.”