A dramatic increase in juvenile crime shows the desperate need for a juvenile detention center in the county, a coalition of judges, the district attorney’s office and law enforcement said.
“I would say this is a disaster,” District Attorney Erleigh Norville told county commissioners at their regular Tuesday meeting.
County Court at Law Judge Tracy Gold showed commissioners statistics on the increase in juvenile crime over the last five years. There have been 155 juvenile felony and 224 class A&B misdemeanors referred to the courts this year. That compares to 47 felonies and 69 misdemeanors referred in 1918, according to the Kaufman County Juvenile Probation Department. And the head of the probation department said there have been 40 cases since those statistics were collected.
Monday night, he said, he got a call concerning domestic violence by a juvenile and a half hour later a call concerning a stolen car in Forney.
Both of those juveniles were sent back to their homes because there is no place to house them.
“This has fortunately been a banner year for us” in juvenile crime, Gray said.
Most of the felonies involve youth with guns.
“These kids aren’t out practicing. They are not hitting what they aim at. This is a threat to law enforcement and to the public,” District Attorney Erleigh Wiley said.
Her office and local law enforcement agencies already have set up a task force devoting more resources to curbing juvenile crime.
Currently, juveniles taken into custody are sent to juvenile detention centers around the state, some as far as Fort Bend County.
These are youth who have been detained for a possible offense but have not been tried.
Commissioners were sympathetic to the plea but were not sure where money for a center would come from.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Skeet Phillips said commissioners know there is a problem and will put it on the court’s agenda next year.
Gold pointed out that there has been a task force for four years looking at the problems and making recommendations.
There already is land available behind the county Justice Center and schematic drawings have been done.
The estimated cost is $16 million.
Hunt said it’s not just the building cost but ongoing operating costs which he estimated at $2 million a year that would have to come from the county budget.
He suggested that county officials need to talk to state legislators about passing legislation that would help with the cost. The Legislature begins meeting in January.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Cates said the county can’t keep going to taxpayers. He suggested the county empower a committee to look at other options to help reduce the problems.
New programs to divert youth, more counselors and perhaps partnering with other centers, could be explored.
Norville said the juvenile justice task force had explored several of those options.
“We don’t need another committee,” Norville said.