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Officials: Rock County risking public safety to reduce juvenile detainees

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Ted Sullivan
August 13, 2009
— The Rock County Juvenile Detention Center has been ordered to deny the lockup of dangerous kids to reduce its daily population and make the case for closing the facility, officials said Wednesday.

The practice could be a risk to public safety, said Ryan Booth, juvenile detention center union supervisor.


Juvenile probation supervisors also have been ordered to dismiss or “no action” referrals from law enforcement to reduce the caseload, said Kathleen Lichtfuss, former superintendent of the detention center.


“If you limit the number of referrals to the facility, you can make the argument that it’s not needed,” she said. “The bottom line is money.”


Rock County Human Services will provide an option of closing or partially closing the detention center in 2010 to save up to $400,000 in a tight budget.


A public hearing was held Wednesday at the Job Center, and about a dozen people spoke in favor of keeping the facility open.


Booth, who works in the detention center, said reducing staff, furloughs and other measures could be taken to save money.


Housing juveniles in Rock County from other counties also could bring in revenue, but kids have been denied entrance in the past, even though beds are available, Booth said.


Detention officers are role models to juveniles, he said, and kids need the facility to get turned around.


Parents also wouldn’t be able to visit their children if they’re housed elsewhere, Booth said.


Other issues such as attorney interviews, police interviews and medication delivery would be difficult with juveniles housed outside the county, he said.


Dave Moore, Janesville police chief, said closing the detention center could compromise public safety.


Officers could be tied up while holding or transporting juveniles, he said. They also would have to travel to interview juveniles.


The result would be less time for officers to patrol the streets, Moore said.


David O’Leary, Rock County district attorney, said juveniles could fall through the cracks without the detention center.


Juvenile offenders need education, treatment and a safe environment, he said.


The hassles of not having a local facility also might result in fewer referrals because of the cost and time, O’Leary said.


If more kids are released, it could be unsafe, he said.


The detention center’s average daily population has been reduced to 19 inmates per day through July, compared to 29 inmates per day during the same time in 2008.


If the detention center closed, the county would rent beds in other counties.


A secure transport company would be hired to move the juveniles.


Thirty employees work in the detention center, located near the Rock County Jail on Janesville’s north side at highways 14 and 51.


If only the secure side closed, about 15 people would be laid off. About 27 people would be laid off if the entire building closed.



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