Construction of juvenile center expansion looks good | NevadaAppeal.com

Construction of juvenile center expansion looks good

JIM SCRIPPS

For close to 20 years, Carson City’s chief juvenile probation officer Bill Lewis has been cramped into his small office, hoping for some much-needed elbow room.

It finally looks like he might get some.

Since its construction more than 20 years ago, the Carson City Juvenile Detention Center, on the corner of East Fifth Street and Saliman Road, has been overcrowded and understaffed. Its employees and size barely able to maintain the caseload back in the 1970s, much less handle an increase throughout the years. But an increase is exactly what they have had to deal with.

For example, points out Lewis, there were 59 instances of juvenile burglary in 1981 compared with 90 in 1998. In 1981, there were six dangerous drug cases, a number that jumped to 143 in 1997.

The justice system’s ability to deal with juveniles should not be determined by whether a kid can get the treatment he or she needs, or whether they have to be placed on a waiting list, Lewis said. Many teenagers have been waiting in custody for as long as three months to get into drug treatment programs.

Thanks to a federal grant that gave the detention center the estimated $625,000 they need to start a two-phase improvement project, Lewis and his staff will be relocating to a new office – phase one – on the south end of the rectangular lot while the current buildings can be remodeled – phase two – to update classrooms, living quarters for inmates and the standards of safety for employees and visitors.

In a request submitted to the planning commission for a special-use permit, planners outlined the need to update the current space: “The increasing workload and increasing population of the city requires more space to adequately perform the functions of this department.”

Phase one, which planners are sending out for bid in the next couple of weeks, will consist of a rectangular building that will add eight new offices, a large reception area, a conference room and two multi-purpose classrooms. They are hoping to start construction, which should last eight months, at the beginning of next year.

Cramming the functions that this expanded space will provide into the old building with juvenile court, living quarters and recreation areas has had the ironic effect of crippling the functions that the center is designed to perform, Lewis said.

“Lawyers talk to defendants while the victims wait in the same room,” said Lewis. “Lawyers have to meet with their clients in the bathroom because that’s the only space.”

The present juvenile courtroom was built before safety became a central concern for government agencies. With the advent of violent outbursts in places like federal buildings and schools, there needs to be a buffer zone between the street and the courtroom, Lewis said.

At present, someone could walk through the front doors of the juvenile justice building and immediately into the courtroom, about 10 feet inside. There would not be any time for public safety officers to react to an armed assault. Phase two of the construction plan calls for the remodeling of the current building’s lobby to allow a “buzz-in” system for the sensitive times when court is in session.

Lewis said he hoped for phase two construction to start in the spring of 2001. The much more modest overhaul ($220,000) will set us up for future expansion, Lewis said.