Guilford County has sent a letter of intent to the State of North Carolina expressing the county’s willingness to expand the Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center to house delinquents for the state once a new law goes into effect – a law that will dramatically increase the number of 16- and 17-year-olds being held as juveniles in North Carolina.
The state is going to have a lot more delinquents on its hands after Dec. 1, 2019, when youths in that age group are no longer tried and incarcerated as adults. It will need to hold them somewhere and, more and more, it looks like that somewhere will be Guilford County.
For several years, county officials have been discussing the possibility of increasing the county’s juvenile detention space in order to create a new revenue stream and help the state deal with a detention bed shortage that is already a big problem even though the new law isn’t in effect yet.
Currently, if a 16- or 17-year-old is arrested for a crime, he or she is tried as an adult. After the new state law goes into effect in late 2019, only those who are 18 older will be dealt with as adults. The new letter of intent, signed by Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing, expresses Guilford County’s desire to act as a holding facility for juveniles from across the state once that new law goes into effect if the state will fund the $7.5 million to $9.5 million expansion of the detention center and provide financial guarantees against county budgetary shortfalls that could result from the expanded juvenile delinquent operations.
Lawing’s letter states, “The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners interest and intention to agree to expand the county juvenile detention center to house juveniles from other counties in North Carolina if the General Assembly will provide capital funding to cover 100 percent of the actual design and construction costs of the expansion. Depending on the occupancy rate of the facility we believe it is possible that the current per diem rate of $244 could cover the additional operating expense.”
Guilford County, which already has the largest juvenile detention facility in the state, is now being paid that amount per delinquent per day. Half of the money, $122 each day, is paid by the state and the other half is paid by the youth’s county of origin.
Doug Logan, the director of the Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center, said the burden of housing the youths falls on the State of North Carolina. He said there would be several advantages if Guilford County expands its detention center for that purpose.
According to Login, Guilford County already holds delinquents from other areas of the state that have limited detainment space for the youngsters, and the number of needed spaces will only increase with the coming change in the law.
“Right now we are keeping kids from 13 counties outside of Guilford County,” Logan said.
Logan said the county and state are negotiating terms, and part of the agreement proposed by Lawing stipulates that the state will kick in money if the number of juveniles held by the county falls to a level where the county facility is operating at a loss due to the new staff it would have to hire and the equipment and supplies it would have to buy each year to help out the state.
Logan said it’s important to have that clause because Guilford County will have the ongoing operation but will have no control over the number of kids being sent to the facility.
County officials said there’s some give and take in this potential deal between the state and the county. For instance, the state may come back with a counteroffer if it doesn’t agree to the terms proposed by Guilford County.
One advantage to expanding the Guilford County facility is that Guilford County would be able to hold all of its own juveniles delinquents from Guilford County, which means the county wouldn’t have to pay another county to do so.
Logan said yet another advantage would be that Guilford County juvenile delinquents would be close to home where family members could visit. He also said that, if there’s an arrest made in the middle of the night and the detention center here has plenty of space, delinquents in Guilford County wouldn’t have to be transported to some distant county – which is a burden on law enforcement officers and others.
Guilford County, for instance, is now holding some youths from the Wilmington area. The county often keeps youths from far away, which is a great hardship on the families in those counties.
Logan said there are eight juvenile detention facilities in North Carolina – one run by Guilford County, one by Durham County and six others run by the state. Guilford County currently has the largest facility in the state while some others have very limited capacity. Logan said the center run by Durham County, for instance, only has 14 beds.
According to Logan, state officials anticipate a need for the addition of 160 to 180 juvenile beds across the state, with the state’s current plan to create
48 new beds in Guilford County, 48 in a facility in Mecklenburg County and 60 in a facility in Raleigh. More space will need to be added after that if the state’s estimates are on target.
Lawing said Guilford County was contacted by the state at the start of 2018 to consider expanding its facility by either 32 or 48 beds.
“Since Guilford County is only one of two counties that operates a full service juvenile detention center, they’ve asked us to consider expansion,” he said.
Lawing said that staff had been looking at projected costs for months. They estimate that adding 48 beds would cost $9.5 million, while the 32-bed expansion would $7.5 million. The increased operating costs associated with the expansion, including salaries, would be an additional $1.8 million to $2.1 million per year, depending on the size of the expansion.
“We asked the state to cover 100 percent of the design and construction,” Lawing said, adding that the county already has a preliminary design but hasn’t made that document public due to security concerns.
Guilford County’s central location in the state, its major ongoing juvenile detention services and the fact that the facility that was built with future expansion in mind has made Guilford County a central part in the state’s juvenile delinquency plan.
The letter of intent, which Lawing sent to William Lassiter, the deputy commissioner for Juvenile Justice in the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, states, “We have received assistance from a consulting architect on potential capacity expansions of the county’s current 44 bed center by 32 or 48 beds and evaluated construction and potential operating costs for a larger facility … That new space includes confinement space and dayrooms as well as the required educational and recreational space.”
The letter also states that Guilford County “would seek an agreement with the Department of Public Safety to provide supplemental funding to cover any operating shortfalls that could occur as the result of low occupancy.”
The coming state law won’t be retroactive, so only those 16- and 17-year-olds charged after Dec. 1, 2019 will be dealt with as juveniles. Those charged and arrested before that date would see no change in status when the law goes into effect.
Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston said he wants the county to move cautiously on the expansion deal to make sure it doesn’t end up costing the county money. Other commissioners also said this week that a lot depends on how the state responds to the county’s letter of intent.
Guilford County averages holding about 28 juveniles a day. On Friday, April 20, the county’s detention facility at 15 Lockheed Ct. near Piedmont Triad International Airport held 30 males and five females, with 18 of those delinquents from other counties. That facility opened in 1998.
Logan said it will be a challenge to keep 16- and 17-year-olds since they can be stronger and more rebellious than younger kids. The youngest child now in the Guilford County facility is 8 years old and Logan said it’s a lot harder to control a 17-year-old than an 8-year-old or a 12-year-old.
Logan said that setting these kids on the right path and keeping them from lives of crime is a real benefit to society.
“You can see the difference you are making,” he said of the work done at the juvenile facility.
He said the youths later often see the time there as a real benefit.
For instance, Logan said, he got a letter from one former delinquent who had jointed the Marines and was very thankful Logan and his staff had helped guide him in life.
Logan said that, when his own kids were growing up, he would explain to them that, if they got in trouble, he wouldn’t be able to oversee them so they would no doubt be sent to a detention center far, far away. He told the Rhino Times that, actually, there was no such policy and they could have been kept in Guilford County, but he added that that scare tactic had, for the most part, worked on his kids.