MARION (WCMH) — Marion County will no longer use its juvenile detention center as a jail for teens.
This change comes after the county saw a near 50% drop in youth jail admission since 2013.
Instead, the county will turn the building into a resource center for families in need of assistance.
“We tend to think of adolescents as little adults, but they’re not,” said Susan Kieffer, who is the ADAI Coordinator for Marion County.
The jail for kids here in Marion County is just like other detention centers around the country, but it’s underused.
“Currently, it is a 22-bed facility,” said Don Leffler, who is the detention administrator. “Currently, we have four that are in population.”
The facility has essential items for the four kids. Things like shirts, underwear, and towels, because this and more is part of the $1.2-million budget for this department.
But that’s about to change.
“You don’t want to mix low and moderate risk kids with high-level kids,” said Leffler.
For more than five years, Marion County has been re-tooling its juvenile detention with a focus on alternative solutions.
Marion County Family Court judges have seen firsthand how troubled teens and their families could use help and not punishments.
“This youth was chronically in our detention center,” said Judge Debborah Alspach. “He was not necessarily a criminal. He has some disabilities in terms of being able to manage his behavior.”
Judge Robert Fragale added: “And he would do things like going into a store and stealing a lighter even though he didn’t smoke just to get picked up so he could be brought to our detention facility, because he knew, there, he was secure, he had his meals, he had a place to sleep.”
It’s why they’re transforming this detention center into a resource center for families.
Their hope is to cut down the number of kids entering the detention center and also cut down on repeat offenders because the families would have tools to help the kids succeed.
“If it were my child, how would I want my child to be treated finding themselves in a difficult circumstance,” said Kieffer.
For high-risk kids, county officials told NBC4 they are working out deals with neighboring counties to see if they would be able to take the “high-risk” kids who are a danger to themselves or the community.