The Cochise County juvenile detention facility will be shutting down by the end of the year, officials said Friday, as administrators work out an arrangement with Santa Cruz County to detain this area’s small number of youth offenders.
The reason for closing the Sierra Vista-based center, said Cochise County Court Administrator John Schow, is “purely financial.”
Right now, the county spends $1.8 million a year to operate the center, Schow said. But that’s a lot to pay when there are not enough offenders to house, he said.
“There are four juveniles there today (Friday),” Schow said. “We average about five a day, and usually they stay about 20 days.”
Schow said that average of detainees has remained steady for the last year. The facility, located next to the Juvenile Court at 100 Colonia de Salud, has capacity for about 16 youth.
“The law says we can take juveniles between the ages of 8 and 18, but we normally don’t take anyone under the age of 12,” Schow said.
A younger offender would be detained at the facility however, depending on the crime, Schow said.
The facility will not be closed completely at the end of the year, though. Schow said the county still needs a holding area for young offenders who are attending court. Of the 24 employees who work at the detention facility now, 10 will be retained, Schow said.
The plan to close the detention center mirrors the actions of other government entities around the state and the country that have been shuttering their youth detention facilities for the past two to three years for the same reason as Cochise.
Cochise County Administrator Ed Gilligan said the county is working on an agreement with Santa Cruz County to house any juvenile offenders as needed.
Gilligan lauded Santa Cruz’s juvenile detention operation for its emphasis on education and services.
“There is full transparency there,” Gilligan said of the Santa Cruz facility.
He also said the Santa Cruz juvenile facility is in a “similar circumstance” to Cochise County.
Over the last twenty years, the United States has seen a steady drop in crime rates, including in juvenile crime. One reason posed by juvenile justice experts is the increased attention being given to at-risk or troubled juveniles before they end up arrested for committing a crime.
Gilligan, who worked in juvenile justice years ago, said “once a child is committed to a juvenile detention facility, their risk of going to an adult jail increases exponentially.”
He said the plan to possibly partner with Santa Cruz must be approved by the Board of County Supervisors.
Meanwhile, once the juvenile detention center closes, employees no longer working there will be able to apply for other county jobs, both Gilligan and Schow said.
“We are encouraging our detention staff to apply for jobs within the court system (including probation), as well as other county jobs,” Schow said. “Some plan to retire, and we will also probably have normal attrition. It is our goal to help all of our current detention employees find employment if they are not retained or do not plan to retire.”
“Two detention officers have already accepted jobs within our probation department,” Schow added.
Gilligan said he hopes the juvenile detention center will resurrect as a facility that houses services for youth and mentally ill adults.