County struggles with juvenile justice issue

Even though the county has yet to pay its bill for detaining juvenile criminals in 2004, it has exceeded its budget by $56,155.

The county’s juvenile services division still has to pay Snohomish County for the month of December and Skagit County is still owed for half of that month.

Juvenile Services Director Mike Merringer said that the majority of the 235 juveniles that have been detained were repeat offenders serving time for probation violation.

“We have a lot of kids that refuse to stay home,” he said. “We have a lot of runaways.”

The court reviews cases every two weeks, which results in the children being sent back to jail fairly often, Merringer said. The court sets certain conditions for probation, which can include community service, urine tests, counseling or paying restitution.

“When kids are in the community and they don’t meet those conditions, then they are subject to sanctions,” Merringer said.

This can mean a stay in a correctional facility of up to 30 days, he said.

According to data from Island County Juvenile and Family Court Services, the average juvenile offender serves six days in confinement. This means that through December, Island County had to pay for 746 days at Skagit County and 777 at Snohomish County.

So far, Island County has paid Skagit $74,600 for the bed days and Snohomish County has received $100,233.

Island County currently pays $100 for each day in Skagit County and $129 for a bed in Snohomish, Merringer said. On top of that, juvenile services pays off-duty sheriff’s deputies to transport the youths. The county pays the officers approximately $25 per hour, he said.

The number of bed days per month peaked in May, when Island County youth occupied 197 days in other facilities.

Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton said the need for a new facility is dire.

“There are a lot of things in society today that kids get involved with the wrong thing,” Shelton said. “And more often than not it’s drugs.”

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