Auctions are ready for the youth center

Ector County is expected to bid for its new $25 million youth center soon and Superintendent of Juvenile Probation Kevin Mann and his staff are excited about the opportunities the new facility will provide for troubled youth.

When the existing detention center was built on East Yukon Road in 1974, it was built with runaways and curfews in mind, not today’s children who often struggle with mental health issues. and drug addiction and charged with serious crimes, Mann said.

The new facility on US 385 will not only solve practical problems that arise every day in the current building, but it will also give staff and stakeholders a better chance to rehabilitate children, Mann said.

Over the past five years, an average of about 260 children per year have spent time in the youth center waiting for their cases to be resolved, according to county statistics. From 2017 to 2020, another 35 children a year spent time at the center as part of their sentence or after violating their probation.

Court statistics show the children typically spent between three weeks and four months in the 48-bed facility.

Due to the way the facility is laid out and its size, staff often have problems keeping children separated from each other, Mann and his staff said. Ideally, children should be separated not only in terms of gender, but also according to the type of crime they are accused of having committed and their age.

Children accused of sex crimes or violent crimes should be kept apart from other children and children with mental health issues should also be held in a different area, they said.

Although the children have separate cells, they are located along two corridors, each connected to a day room. Classrooms are also attached to day rooms where teachers from the Ector County Independent School District teach classes. As a result, children who should be separated often end up meeting each other.

The provision also creates security and privacy issues in the current facility, they said. Their maximum security cells are located next to an exit and a common room. Children booked into the facility may be seen by visiting parents and other children.

In addition, the offices of the probation officers and the courtroom are a few meters from the detention center.

“We had children in these rooms, beating, screaming as the courts went on, and you have parents in front with lawyers,” said the administrator of the establishment, Albert Aguirre. “Kevin can hear these kids all the way to his office. So imagine the chaos that arises.

These same children often make it difficult for religious services and counseling sessions to be held or for a community actor like the Rev. Dawn Weaks of Connection Christian Church to plan a special activity or event, Mann said.

In terms of aesthetics, the facility resembles a prison with low ceilings, institutional colors and little natural light, Aguirre said. The children have a large gymnasium, but they only occasionally have access to a small, secure outdoor courtyard.

The design of the new facility will address all of these issues, but more importantly, it will also give the department the ability to provide rehabilitation programs for children, Mann said.

The new facility will expand to 64 beds, have a multipurpose room, gymnasium and vocational training building. It will also double the number of day rooms, have a library and several courtyards with space for a garden.

The multipurpose room will allow community workers to enter the facility and expose children to all kinds of things they have never seen before so they know “there is more to life than to run in the streets,” Mann said.

Mann recalls years ago taking an intern to a doctor and stopping at a restaurant on the way home. The teenager had never seen a menu before and didn’t know how to order a meal. He wants to be able to teach children in custody and on probation basic life skills and the multipurpose room will allow them to do that.

“All the kids think, ‘Oh, when I go out, I’m going to buy a house. I’m going to buy a car, but they don’t understand there’s a financial part to it,'” Mann said. Lots of opportunities. Just got there. It’s been a long road, but we’re getting closer, so hopefully construction will start soon and we’ll go from there.

Maria Sosa, assistant director of probation, said she knew there were people in the community who were just waiting for the day when they could help out in the new facility.

“We’ve had people come in here and volunteer their time, but the second they see the back they’re like, ‘Any time you get your new building, give us a call and we’re more than happy. ‘glad to help you guys,'” she said. “Some people just don’t feel safe there because of the way we have the layout.”

Sosa is just as enthusiastic about the professional building as she is about the multi-purpose hall.

“We like the idea of ​​being able to focus and try to help with the services. You know, whether it’s plumbing or carpentry or whatever. We love the idea of ​​being able to offer these services to our children,” Sosa said. “School is not a strong point for some of our young people. So we want to be able to show them a craft and, you know, hopefully they can practice that craft every time they come into their adult life.

The building could also be used for both children who are in the detention center and those on probation in the community, Sosa said.

The county will also be able to welcome back children who are currently being shipped out of the county to serve their sentences, Mann said. In October 2020, the county began sending children who were found to be delinquents or violated their probation to other counties to serve their sentences.

Currently, it costs the county $197 per inmate per day to send those children out of the county, he said.

Once the new facility opens, these children will be able to stay in Ector County and their families will be able to visit them more easily, Sosa said. In addition, the county may also reinstate a follow-up program for these same children to help them reintegrate into the community.

Mann said the county may also be able to offer open beds to other counties that also have to ship their children hundreds of miles.

The goal of a juvenile criminal justice system is rehabilitation, not punishment, Mann said.

“It keeps them in the shallow end. We say that all the time. You can’t put a kid in a room and lock them up and think that kid will get better,” Mann said. “The children who are detained here, we keep them out of their rooms and we try to provide as many programs as possible. If you put them in there and ignore them, you’re not doing anything, you’re keeping them off the streets, but when they get out of here, I mean, what did they learn? They will return to the same behaviors.

Mann, whose department consists of eight probation officers and 17 supervisory officers, said they work extremely hard to help county children avoid the adult criminal justice system.

Over the past five years, the county has saved about 120 children a year from entering the system through a deferred prosecution program, statistics show. If first-time offenders and children charged with minor offenses complete certain tasks and do not re-offend within a specified time, the charges against them are dropped.

Court statistics show that over the past five years the probation service has supervised an average of 51 children on statutory probation. In an average year, eight children are placed on a stricter form of probation.

The probation service cares about whole families, not just children, Mann said.

“It’s not just this umbrella approach, ‘Oh well, we’ll just work on the kid.’ You have to involve the family in everything we do… We don’t just work with a child, but we take the parent for job interviews, or take them to counseling or provide them with what they need in the residence.”

It’s not at all unusual for his officers to help with shoes and blankets or refer families to social services, he said.

“It’s not just ‘Hey, follow these rules,’ it’s ‘Hey, we want to give you all the skills you need to help your family be better citizens,’ because these kids aren’t going anywhere.” , Mann said. “They’re not leaving. These families have their roots here and they are going to stay in this community and do we want to work with them now because they are young or let the adult system deal with them later? »

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