Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Sept. 12 @ 4:36 p.m.
Del Norte Supervisors Officially Eliminate Juvenile Hall; Transition to Youth Opportunity Center Will Take Effect Next Month
County supervisors officially eliminated the juvenile hall division from the Del Norte County Probation Department on Tuesday, wrapping up a process that began nearly a year ago.
But rather than declaring the facility closed, the Board of Supervisors — at Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman’s recommendation — declared it unoccupied and directed staff to notify the Board of State and Community Corrections of its change in status. Those changes will take effect Oct. 12.
Reyman said declaring the detention facility unoccupied rather than closed would allow the county to avoid regulatory pitfalls under Title 24 Minimum Standards for Juvenile Facilities should it decide to reopen. The probation department will also maintain annual state fire marshal and environmental health inspections, which would also make for a smoother reopening through the BSCC, Reyman said.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point and I would encourage you to take the action I recommended,” he told supervisors. “Staff are hanging on and we’re rolling with the punches as they come, but I think it’s incumbent upon us to make this decision.”
The unoccupied juvenile hall will become the Youth Opportunity Center, which will offer programs for at-risk youth. According to Reyman, retooling how juvenile detentions and programs are managed in Del Norte County would lead to an estimated savings of $640,000 in general fund expenditures annually.
Reyman recommended the Board of Supervisors close Del Norte County’s juvenile detention facility at an Oct. 11, 2022 meeting. At that meeting, Reyman said six officers were staffing the facility, though a minimum of 11 were needed.
The county was also unable to meet state staffing requirements mandating that juvenile detention centers have a male and female staff member on duty during each shift, Reyman said. Del Norte County had been operating “outside of regs,” and the chief probation officer said he expected having to explain to state officials why the facility couldn’t comply with regulations.
The Board of Supervisors gave Reyman the green light in March to begin the process of shuttering the facility.
Last month, the probation chief presented supervisors with a blueprint for a reorganized probation department that included operating a Youth Opportunity Center. Supervisors approved creating four new reentry officer positions, a new program coordinator position and a new supervising deputy probation officer position.
They also approved a side letter between the county and Del Norte County Employees Association SEIU Local 1021, which allowed current juvenile correctional officers the ability to transfer into the new reentry officer positions without going through a hiring process.
On Tuesday, Reyman said the county would be making cosmetic changes to the building, which includes a new paint job, adding desks, TVs, white boards and other items for the programs the new Opportunity Center would offer.
The biggest structural change in store for the facility will be adding new doors that would be non-secure, but still allow for some controlled access, the probation chief said.
“If we’re not running a program in the kitchen, we don’t want kids wandering into the kitchen,” he said. “So, we’ve already talked with IT about the possibility of using key cards through some of those areas. That will pose some challenges, so we might end up with a handle set with a code.”
Those doorways will also have crash bars to allow for a quick exit during an emergency, Reyman said.
District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard brought up the possibility of the new opportunity center being able to work with Del Norte Unified School District and the Department of Health and Human Services to serve “5150 type children.”
“How close are we to moving that ball forward to potentially using that facility to serve that population of youth that is just off the rails and needs a safe space to come off of whatever’s going on in their lives?” Howard asked Reyman.
Reyman said over the last five to 10 years, there have been a handful of youth that have serious mental health challenges.
However it’s a “different cat to skin” when they’re his department’s custody. He said he wasn’t sure how the Youth Opportunity Center would serve those youth.
“I think it’s worth having that conversation,” Reyman said. “My initial knee-jerk reaction is it presents challenges for us having kids coming through our facility on a regular basis, participating in programs, and hopefully changing the course of their lives at the same time as providing housing for those youth with extremely high needs.”
In response to District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short, who asked about whether the change in staffing classification could potentially impact the reopening of a detention center, Reyman said the BSCC doesn’t have jurisdiction over staffing.
District 5 Supervisor Dean Wilson opined that Del Norte County is an example about how the state has “changed the juvenile justice system overall.”
“The likelihood is the direction will not change at any time too soon and until it does, we’ll not see a commitment level that would sustain utilization of the facility as a custodial facility in Del Norte County for quite some time,” Wilson said. “I don’t agree with the direction the state has gone. The burden always comes down to the public because they’re suffering the effects of a system that no longer holds individuals accountable for their behavior.”
Reyman said while changes to how juvenile justice is approached at the state level is a factor to his recommendation to close the county’s detention facility, it’s really about the lack of ability to staff the facility.
“We’re seeing that across the board not just in the juvenile hall division, but the probation department as a whole and in every other county and private entity these days,” he said. “Law enforcement sees that in particular.”