By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
The status of finding a director and the possibility of moving the location of the Juvenile Correction and Prevention Services office to the Seward County Courthouse were the topics of discussion Monday during a work session hosted by the county commission.
Commission vice chairman Jim Rice began the work shop by saying the board recently decided it was time to make some changes in the director position. As a result, the county hired Mike Howell to fill the position on an interim basis earlier this year.
Rice said this was not a decision that was made easily.
“We did our homework,” he said.
At a recent county commission meeting, JCAPS employees spoke up in favor of hiring Howell on a permanent basis. Rice said this is significant because those are the people who work in the trenches on a daily basis.
“I know some of the discussion that the co-mingling of the adults and the juveniles is not a good thing,” he said. “I believe that’s true. On the other hand, we don’t have any control of that if they’re not directly under the supervision of JCAPS staff.”
The commission is looking at a potential remodel project on the courthouse, and when that is done, the board is also looking to move JCAPS into that building.
“That idea has not been changed,” Rice said. “Safety is of great concern in talking to the employees that are down there. That’s another reason we decided it would be better for them to move up here into the courthouse.”
Rice said he sees the move as a temporary solution, not a permanent one, and he is unsure of how long that will be.
“I don’t know whether that’s a year, two years or five years,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to get another facility up and running should we decide to move this thing.”
Rice said the only problems he has heard is having adults from Cimarron Basin Community Corrections and juveniles from JCAPS in the same facility and the extra workload Howell would take on. Howell is also the director of CBCC.
“In visiting with the employees of JCAPS, they tend to disagree with that,” Rice said.
The vice chair added there is also a need to house juveniles in Seward County. They are currently sent to a facility in Garden City with significant amounts of money spent to do so.
“If we could somehow house some of those here, we could utilize those funds to help in that facility,” Rice said.
Howell said 15 districts in the state run programs similar to the 26th Judicial District, combining community corrections and the Juvenile Justice Authority. He said he sees little problems in allowing the same to happen locally.
“The last question I asked was have you ever had a problem with the adults and juveniles,” he said of talks he had with officials from those districts. “Out of the 15, I had one come back and say he had a problem, but he said the problem is making sure you keep them separate. Three of the programs had a separate entrance for JJA and adults. There’s just a wide variety. The majority of the programs had the same office.”
In Seward County, juvenile cases typically take place on Tuesdays. County attorney Don Scott said the problem his office is objecting to is not having kids show up on that day while adult trials and hearings are taking place, but rather having juveniles in the same facility as adult felons.
“This was never ever about Mike or the staff at JCAPS,” he said.
Scott said the board can do what it wants, and he explained the function of his office.
“My function is we take reports from the police,” he said. “We put on the evidence for the judge. You all can do what you want, but you’re not going to have an impact on juvenile crime unless you take hold of it and do something. There are reams of instructions on what to do. What not to do is throw them in with adult felons and do the program.”
Commissioner Toby Hale said if something is done, it needs to be done right.
“Cover the windows. Close the windows,” he said. “Separate bathrooms. Do it right, or leave them where they are.”
Scott said only the commission can fix the problem of juvenile crime in Seward County, and he believes the advisory board of JCAPS also needs to be involved.
Rice said he believes having Howell as director and moving JCAPS to the courthouse will work.
“The staff, the director, the commission, the county attorney and the judge are all aware of what is needed,” Rice said.
Hale said he believes while solving the problem with JCAPS is one of the most important things the commission does, the solution was not going to be found in one night.
“This is a temporary, at best, one step,” he said. “The kind of facility that we need is going to take some long-term planning and some money that we don’t have, but we better get it on our minds and get started thinking and planning on it. This isn’t going to go away.”
Rice said work will continue on finding a solution to the JCAPS problem.