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Plans for larger Scott County youth detention center sparks tense debate
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Plans for larger Scott County youth detention center sparks tense debate

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WHAT WE KNOW: The Scott County Board of Supervisors was presented designs Tuesday for a new, 40-bed Youth Justice & Rehabilitation Center that would more than double the current licensed capacity of 18 beds.

Plans also include construction of an adjoining Youth Assessment Center, separate from the recently launched prevention-based Youth Assessment Program operated by Family Resources. The two, however, would work "hand in hand," Board of Supervisors Chairman Ken Beck said.

County-hired consulting firm Wold Architects & Engineers estimates the proposed 40-bed Youth Justice & Rehabilitation Center and assessment center would cost $21.75 million to construct. 

Supervisors on Monday tentatively agreed to using $7.25 million of the roughly $33.6 million in federal COVID-19 rescue dollars Scott County will receive under the American Rescue Plan Act to partially pay for the larger detention facility.

County officials have said a larger detention facility providing more physical separation of personnel, contractors and juveniles would help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in congregate settings, including incarceration settings, which is an allowed use under federal guidelines. That includes space for a medical suite and to isolate COVID-19-positive juveniles in special housing from others to prevent possible outbreaks, as well as eliminate the use of double bunking.

WHAT'S NEW: The proposed Youth Assessment Center would provide a law enforcement-based crisis care and drop-off center for delinquent and runaway youth, according to plans posted on the Scott County website.

Instead of local youth picked up by law enforcement immediately moving into the juvenile justice system, they first would come to the center where an assessment would be conducted of the juvenile and his or her family.

The thought is to keep as many juveniles as possible out of the justice system and divert them and their families instead into programs to diagnose and address underlying causes of delinquent behavior.

Critics have argued such a center should be a stand-alone facility. The National Assessment Center Association framework recommends against co-locating an assessment center with a detention facility.

"Centers should be mindful that their location can easily create an association they may not desire or one that can impact the trust of a youth or family," according to the National Assessment Center Association.

"For example, if a center is co-located in a police station or court system, youth and families may automatically think the center is THE police or court," according to the association. "Mistrust of systems may inadvertently be associated with the center and cause youth and families to be reluctant to participate. To increase access, assessment centers should follow best practice around youth and family engagement. This includes allowing youth and families to choose the day and time and the location as well as having flexible office hours."

WHAT'S NEXT: Supervisors have not determined where to build a new youth detention center. One site being considered is the Burke Dry Cleaners property at 936 W. 4th St.

Supervisors earlier this month approved a $1.75 million purchase and lease agreement for the property, with the hopes of closing on the property by the end of the year. Doing so, however, is contingent on the results of an environmental site assessment of the property.

"We need to finalize a site, and until we do that we are on hold," Beck, a Republican, said.

Scott County also purchased a connected piece of property for about $325,000 in December 2020.

WHAT'S THE DEBATE: Community members continued to voice their opposition to the tentative plan for a larger detention center during Tuesday's county board meeting.

Critics, including the Davenport NAACP, local pastors and juvenile justice advocates, argue such a facility is over-sized and unneeded, and that it will only fuel the existing disproportionate incarceration of young people of color and high number of Scott County youth waived to adult court.

County officials contend a 40-bed facility is needed to address overcrowding and long-term juvenile detention capacity needs while continuing to invest in diversion, restorative justice and prevention programs.

Scott County faces a Dec. 18 deadline under a state and federal mandate that any youth awaiting trial as an adult, with limited exceptions, be removed from jail, necessitating further need for more space, JDC Director Jeremy Kaiser said.

When the JDC reaches capacity, the county must spend money to house youths in facilities in other counties, separating them from their families and local support systems.

Scott County officials, too, argue the youth detention facility — which opened in 1980 and subsequently expanded in 1987, 1994 and 2003 — is outdated and not conducive to treatment or rehabilitation; nor is it therapeutic or trauma-informed. Space constraints also limit detention staff's ability to properly classify and separate juveniles based on the severity of their offense.

The proposed Youth Justice & Rehabilitation Center, according to supporters, would provide a trauma-informed, calming and restorative environment that seeks to address needs for positive behavioral change and help youth become better citizens while also holding juveniles accountable and protecting public safety.

While recognizing the county’s need to replace the outdated facility, critics argue Scott County's youth population and youth incarceration numbers are in decline. Kaiser argued detention numbers have declined because of the pandemic, with law enforcement less likely to purse, less likely to investigate and less likely to apprehend.

"The choice is not incarcerate locally or incarcerate elsewhere," said Democratic Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken, a chief critic and the lone dissenting vote among county supervisors over plans to build a larger juvenile detention facility. "There is also the choice to not incarcerate but use community-based monitoring, home-detention and GPS technologies, particularly for nonviolent offenders, who account for a large percentage of juvenile detainees."


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