Nevada County juvenile hall to detain more minors from other counties | TheUnion.com

Nevada County juvenile hall to detain more minors from other counties

John Orona
Staff Writer

Despite costing Nevada County more than $1,400 per day to house juveniles, according to a March San Francisco Chronicle investigation, the county’s Juvenile Detention Center has now contracted to detain Lassen County juveniles at a price of just $100 per bed each day.

Nevada County’s juvenile hall has experienced a drop in its use over the past several years. While the shrinking juvenile hall population is a recurring theme across the state — 39 out of 43 county juvenile halls were less than half full last year — counties are taking disparate approaches. Some, like Lassen and El Dorado, have chosen to close down their juvenile hall facilities and contract out to other jurisdictions, to the tune of big savings.

Lassen approved the upcoming Oct. 1 closure of its juvenile hall, citing an anticipated savings of nearly $250,000 for the year. According to county documents, Lassen houses about three minors per day in their detention facility at a cost of $741 per day for each juvenile.

Although Nevada County has considered such an approach, with two recommendations to that end coming down from the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury in the last four years, Chief Probation Officer Michael Ertola said the logistics would be too cost prohibitive to be a real savings option.

Instead, Ertola has chosen to reduce the department’s costs as much as possible and become a hub of housing minors for counties nearby.

Part of that approach is maximizing agreements with neighboring counties while being sensitive to the competitive market that has sprung up to house them. The price to detain minors in other counties hoping to take advantage of this demand can be anywhere from $125 to $200 per day for the same service.

“I think the big message here is that doing this is bringing in money for the county and allowing us to continue providing the programing to our kids that has produced that same success rate over the last decade,” Ertola said.

It also allows local juveniles to stay in the county and increases the chances of family visitation, which would be less likely if they were sent out of county, according to Ertola.

The probation department has been able to reduce its budget by a third in the past two years by not backfilling a dozen positions, which has lowered its cost to detain minors and allowed it to offer the $100 per bed per day service.

The county expects to see an average of three or four minors from Lassen and one from Calaveras each day, bringing the county’s total to about 10 per day. According to Ertola, similar programs in the past have brought in about $250,000 each year.

“We’re not as quick to incarcerate and have moved to more rehabilitative sanctions rather than punitive ones,” Ertola said. “Now it’s about justifying the use of the facility, maximizing the space of the facility and our ability to continue providing programming.”

Ertola said some people have put a negative spin on the decreased population in juvenile hall. However, it’s dropped because successful programs led to booking and intake reductions.

According to the county, the facility’s rehabilitation practices, including programs like anger management and life skills classes, have reduced recidivism and led to a surplus of space.

“Implementation of evidence-based practices by both juvenile hall staff and probation officers has resulted in available capacity to accommodate placements for other county minors,” a county report states. “Statistical evidence shows Nevada County Juvenile Hall practices … are effective in reducing recidivism and negative behavioral incidents.”

Contact Staff Writer John Orona at jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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