Juvenile detention center to close in December as part of Meck County budget

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office has been plagued with staffing issues and now, county commissioners want to close the juvenile detention center and freeze dozens of positions.

Only 55 people are in the juvenile detention center in late May. The sheriff’s office said those housed in the detention center will go to other facilities in the state when it closes on Dec. 1.

The decision was made as part of the budget and the ongoing process to lower the number of people inside the detention center.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is defending a decision to shut down the juvenile detention center.

In May, the Department of Public Safety sent a letter to Mecklenburg County asking them to keep the facility open or let them lease it.

The state said closing it may result in difficulty housing youth offenders close to home.

The sheriff’s office said in June that it makes sound financial sense to end operations and they must prioritize the services they are mandated to provide.

Kenneth Robinson leads Freedom Fighting Missionaries, a nonprofit that helps former inmates reenter society. He has a unique perspective on the current overcrowding issue inside the Mecklenburg County Detention Center.

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“I was a federal prisoner myself and went to Mecklenburg jail awaiting transport,” Robinson said in May.

The current plan has fewer people like Robinson being held uptown.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services told Sheriff Garry McFadden he had to reduce the population level. To do that, the county has been taking fewer federal inmates. But that comes at a cost.

“You lose some revenue by not having those individuals,” Robinson said.

The federal government pays the jail to house them. The new budget says by reducing the number of federal inmates to just 250 a day, the county is losing $16.7 million.

To make up those costs, the county wants to close the juvenile detention center -- once known as Jail North -- and freeze 90 open MCSO positions.

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County Commissioner Pat Cotham says it worries her that those residents will be moved elsewhere in the state.

“I don’t like the idea of them going to other areas because I would like them to be close to their families,” Cotham said.

Robinson says it’s vital the detention center has a reasonable population for the safety of everyone in it.

“Before COVID, when these numbers were manageable, it wasn’t a problem housing these individuals for a short stay

Even with all of the reductions, leaders still anticipate a $4.5 million annual gap, which will be absorbed by the county.

“The sheriff’s office has grappled with staffing shortages for some time,” said County Manager Dena Diorio. “The State Department of Health and Human Services recently directed the sheriff to reduce the jail population to maintain appropriate staffing ratios for the safety and security of both staff and residents.”

The budget will be voted on next month.

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