Youth Center proposes relocating facility

A new location is proposed for the Ector County Youth Center that would move the facility closer to the Ector County Law Enforcement Center.
With support from the Commissioners’ Court, youth center officials met with architects Thursday to discuss operational needs and design ideas for a new facility.
Ector County Juvenile Probation Director Kevin Mann said they hope to have the final concept submitted by mid-May.
Mann said problems at the Ector County Youth Center are piling up as the dated facility is stretched to its limits.
The 45-year-old youth center struggles to accommodate the county’s increased juvenile population, which is driving intake numbers beyond capacity levels, and facility officials suggest an overhaul is the only option going forward.
“It is a concern and an issue that we have got to address as a community,” Ector County Judge Debi Hays said.
Mann said the growing juvenile population and the influx of the people coming into the community have contributed to rising referral rates and put the facility in a tough position. Referrals indicate the number of youth that are admitted to the juvenile facility for allegedly committing a criminal act.
Ector County has seen a 23 percent increase in overall referrals and a 67 percent increase in felony Jones said aggravated assault and robbery are becoming more common and trending upward especially for female offenders com- On Tuesday, only one bed remained available in the pre-adjudicated hallway.
Mann said if two people came in needing to be detained then staff would have to swap one juvenile out and release them back to the community to accommodate the new arrival.
“It’s our obligation to keep that kid and remove them from the streets,” Mann said. “A lot of times we can’t do that.”
He said having closer to 40-48 beds for those that are pre-adjudicated would be ideal.
Mann’s main concern is that the facility is running out of time to modify infrastructure and correct the issues that plague the youth center.
He addressed the Commissioners’ Court on March 7 to get the ball rolling before a legislative bill potentially changes the state’s criminal justice system by raising the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18.
Mann said the legislation is a game changer that could transfer about 275 17 year olds from the Ector County Detention Center to his facility.
“The worry is if we don’t get a new facility and raise the age happens, the only way we can absorb that population is to end long-term care,” Mann said. “They still need to be placed at the end of the day and so that means we’re contracting out. It will be just like the sheriff’s office but at a higher cost because our kids are going to cost $150-$200 a day.”
The youth center’s director said attending to more and more high-risk juveniles with substance abuse problems, mental health issues or a history of traumatic experiences requires a facility conducive to rehabilitation.
“There’s nothing you can do here,” Mann said. “It would be like running a car that’s hit 300,000 miles through a car wash and saying there’s a new car. At the end of the day that’s an old car with an old engine that’s out of date. You can’t add on and you can’t change the layout.”
He stood with Jones Tuesday in the building’s epicenter for education: the lunch room. Mann said every room must serve as a multi-purpose room due to space restrictions. The dining area had a strong scent of cleaning products in the air and the sound of staff washing dishes echoed in the background.
“How can you sit here and learn when you’re smelling bleach,” Mann said. “These are all things that can be fixed with a different facility and a different design.”
Jones said modern detention standards have shifted more toward intervention and rehabilitation programming, which includes having detainees out of their rooms for 10 hours of the day. The facility was not built with that in mind during the 70s.
“This is where we have to make a change,” Jones said. “If we don’t then we’re going to tie up the adult system with these same kids.”
Mann said issues are at every level in the facility from design, function, maintenance, to safety and security.
This week more Band-Aids were placed throughout the facility as crews worked to address plumbing issues and raise an exterior 12-foot wall where two teenage detainees previously escaped in February due to weak spots in the infrastructure’s design.
“Ultimately it’s going to come down to Commissioner’s Court,” Mann said. “What do they want for their community, how do they value rehabilitation and how do they value public safety?”