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Archive for Friday, January 22, 1999

PRISON PROPOSAL PART OF ONGOING JUVENILE-JUSTICE REFORM HIGH-SECURITY JUVENILE JAIL CALLED FOR

January 22, 1999

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— Juvenile Justice Authority Commissioner Albert Murray says state detention centers for juvenile criminals are too crowded in Kansas.

The state's juvenile prisons are "seriously overcrowded," and the number of chronic or violent young criminals locked up is expected to almost double by 2008. That's why Kansas needs to build a new, 225-bed maximum-security facility, Juvenile Justice Authority Commissioner Albert Murray said Thursday.

"We strongly need to move forward on this," Murray told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Murray said the commission needs $2.2 million to develop construction plans and total cost estimates for the proposed prison or youth center, which would be open by 2002.

"Location? We've not reached that point yet," Murray said. Kansas currently has 600 juvenile inmates in facilities meant to hold no more than 519, Murray said. His agency plans to solve the overcrowding short-term by increasing beds at the Topeka center and by reopening a unit at the girls facility in Beloit.

But none of the state's current facilities were designed to hold the sorts of violence-prone youngsters increasingly common in the system, Murray said.

"Easily 100 or more (now in custody) would qualify or be better suited for a maximum-security facility," Murray said. "There is no such facility, and there never has been one."

The Topeka facility, the state's strongest lock-up for youngsters, "is by no means considered maximum-security," Murray said.

The proposed prison would be one part of an ongoing reform the state's juvenile-justice system launched in 1997. Another part is development of community programs for dealing with less dangerous youngsters in their hometown or outright prevention.

Murray told lawmakers his agency is reviewing proposals from communities statewide, including Douglas County.

Gov. Bill Graves has recommended $40 million be spent in the fiscal year that begins July 1 so communities can implement their plans. Murray said based on his agency's review of the local plans that sum seems adequate.

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is shields@ljworld.com.

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