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Archive for Sunday, January 12, 1992

S JAIL FOR JUVENILES

January 12, 1992

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— A regional juvenile detention center in Douglas County remains a vision with county and state officials, but about 20 miles east of Lawrence that vision is reality.

Olathe is home to the 12-year-old Johnson County Juvenile Hall. The Lawrence center, due for completion next year, likely will resemble the Olathe center since the same design consultant worked on both projects.

Similarities in the two centers would be good, said Jerry Jacobson, director of the Johnson County center. He said the design consultant, Abend Singleton Associates of Westwood, was highly competent.

"I know they'll give them (Douglas County) a good facility," Jacobson said. "They check with us once in a while, wanting to know what problems we're having, if any. I think they built us a good facility."

SOME GENERAL physical comparisons between Johnson County's and Douglas County's centers remain unknown. Johnson County's center is 25,000-square feet with 30 beds and employs more than 40 people. It is located on an acre of land sandwiched near other social clinics, a nursing home and residential property.

Douglas County's center will have 14 beds, but its total size likely will differ from the originally planned 9,100 square feet. A site has not been chosen, but it will be located within Lawrence's city limits. The center will serve Douglas County and 17 other counties in northeast Kansas.

The smell of institutional cleanser permeated the air as Jacobson conducted a tour through the Johnson County center, a combination campus and correctional center.

THE OFFENDERS, ages 13 to 18, attend classes at the center from 9 a.m. to almost noon. A Johnson County school district teacher and teacher's aide conduct the classes. Assignments for the teen-agers are provided by the school district, Jacobson said. Homework is required and is quite unpopular, he said, because most of the offenders were not regularly enrolled in school.

"The trend used to be they just locked kids up in a cold storage sort of thing," Jacobson said. "Anymore you want to do what you can with them while you've got them."

Although no educational program or any programs are in place yet for Douglas County, County Administrator Chris McKenzie said classes also would be offered here, perhaps for a period longer than three hours. He cited a need to keep the juveniles busy in a productive manner.

THE JOHNSON County juvenile offenders, who have committed a variety of crimes, have their free time structured with studying, participating in either indoor or outdoor recreation or watching television. The offenders earn certain recreation and other privileges through good behavior.

A large common room serves as a library, recreation room, lounge and dining area for the offenders. Pingpong and pool are favorite pastimes. A no-frills gymnasium provides basketball and a weight machine.

But before the setting leaves too relaxing an impression, a check of the sleeping arrangements offers a jolt of reality that the center is indeed a jail for juveniles.

Most rooms are only 8 feet by 10 feet. The bed is a metal frame welded into three of the walls. The thin mattress is made of flame-retardant material.

THE ROOM'S only light is recessed above the door and encased in thick glass. Jacobson admits the candle power emitted is inadequate, but the old overhead lights were easy targets for vandalism.

Ditto for plumbing there is none except in the intake rooms. Most wings have a single shower and toilet, and the offenders use the facilities one at a time.

When Jacobson opened the door to show the room, a wad of paper intended to subterfuge the lock plopped on the cement floor. Such behavior is constant, he said.

"I've never worked in an adult facility, but they tell me kids are a lot worse than adults," Jacobson said. "You constantly have to supervise them. Even when they're in the rooms, they have to be checked every 15 minutes."

OUTSIDE, an 11-foot high chain-link fence surrounds the building. The chain links are purposely small to thwart climbing efforts. Barbed wire is slanted inward at the top of the fence, also to discourage escape attempts. No one has escaped in the 12 years the Johnson County center has been operating.

Jacobson said the staff closely watches the fence line because friends of the offenders sometimes leave contraband there. Outdoor activities also are monitored closely because of nearby fights, some of which are gang or racially motivated.

Despite its business, Jacobson said he has not received any complaints from the neighbors. McKenzie said he is interested in the same relationship wherever the Douglas County center is built. He recommends that the county hold a public hearing on the site selection to allay any community fears.

"THERE ARE things that can be done with site planning and design that makes a building a lot less intrusive in a neighborhood," McKenzie said.

Johnson County's cost for caring for an offender is calculated at $116 a day. Most of the juveniles are the custody of the state's Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which pays Johnson County $49.70 a day; the difference is paid by the county.

McKenzie said a similar situation could occur in Douglas County, but the cost difference will spread among the other 17 counties. He estimates that the annual cost to run the center will exceed the original $500,000 projection.

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