County OKs juvenile detention center agreement

Jan. 25—CLINTON — After months of dealing with the uncertainty of finding juvenile detention bed space, the Clinton County Board of Supervisors has approved a contract for one guaranteed bed in Iowa's Linn County.

The six-month contract will cost the county $282 a day and is meant to help the county save money and other resources as it deals with an uptick in violent juvenile crime.

"We are seeing more and more juveniles with guns," said Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf.

Clinton County leaders for the past several months have been discussing how a federal law, approved in 2018 and enacted by the state legislature in 2019 for enforcement in 2021, is affecting the county.

Under the law, juveniles must be housed according to strict guidelines, and cannot be placed in a facility intended for adults, meaning they are not to be housed in the Clinton County Jail. The jail was built prior to the new law's creation: Clinton County voters approved the Clinton County Law Center's construction by passing a $22 million bond referendum in May 2016. Construction was complete in 2019.

Compounding the problem are a state-imposed limit on the number of beds available in Iowa, set at 272, and the lack of staffing at those facilities around the state, which in some cases leaves beds open. That leads to the Clinton County Attorney's Office spending sometimes hours on the phone to locate a bed, which could be anywhere in the state. The county also has to be prepared for immediate action should a Clinton County juvenile be unexpectedly discharged from a detention center. That all has caused county officials to scramble when they have to find immediate bed space for a Clinton County juvenile entering custody or one who has been discharged from another center because of lack of bed space or behavioral issues.

"It's incredibly frustrating to find places for juveniles," said Supervisor Dan Srp.

County officials also say having the guaranteed bed will help control some of the deputy overtime and transportation costs that come with driving a juvenile across Iowa when the only empty bed available is located there. Expenses also are incurred when a juvenile is driven back and forth to attend court hearings in Clinton County.

And those costs have been escalating.

The Board of Supervisors budgeted $30,000 for juvenile offender housing for the fiscal year that began July 1. Since then, the county has spent that $30,000, later approved a budget amendment for $35,000 and in November directed another $150,000 to cover costs until May. The Board of Supervisors is now conducting budget hearings for the next fiscal year.

One option that already has been tried by the county was a partnership with the Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Center in Eldora. While it costs $200 a day to house a juvenile there, that cost can quickly escalate to $600 a day based on behavior. Juveniles deemed to be too difficult to deal with are discharged from the facility, leaving the county attorney's office to have to quickly find a juvenile detention bed.

The Supervisors say a solution may be on the horizon. A juvenile detention center now under construction in Scott County could provide some relief. The hope is that Clinton County will have a partnership with Scott County to house Clinton County juveniles there when it opens in mid-2024.

"Hopefully the whole picture should improve substantially in the next couple years," Srp said.