As ‘Raise the Age’ deadline nears, counties mulling options for juvenile facility

County and local governments will be able to get financing help from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York to build juvenile housing facilities within the state’s Raise the Age standards.

Last year, the state Legislature passed a budget containing the Raise the Age initiative, which raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18. This means 16- and 17-year-olds would no longer be charged with crimes as adults.

With a higher influx of offenders now being charged as juveniles and not as adults, the state is requiring that such offenders be housed in a separate facility.

Under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 30-day Executive Budget amendments, the Dormitory Authority will help finance projects by reimbursing county and local governments that need to build new facilities or retrofit existing ones.

Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Legislature, said there have been discussions with local agencies interested in spearheading such a project. There are also discussions with neighboring counties on creating a regional facility that could house juvenile offenders from Lewis and St. Lawrence counties as well as from Jefferson County.

But the problem, Mr. Gray said, is that the state has not been specific on guidelines for how these facilities should be built or retrofitted. Additionally, county governments have to meet a tight deadline to complete a project. Raise the Age will take effect for 16-year-olds on Oct. 1 this year and for 17-year-olds on Oct. 1, 2019, according to the state.

“There’s a lot of work to be done between now and October,” Mr. Gray said. “You’re talking about a major initiative that has to be implemented in six months.”

Mr. Gray said he’s hoping the county will learn more during a meeting between county personnel and state agencies later this month.

In other court-related matters, county officials are also still working with the city of Watertown to build a new City Court building next to the County Court building on Arsenal Street. The choices have boiled down to a separate, two-story building — connected via skyway — built on the small public parking next to the CitiBus station, or an addition attached directly to the County Court building. Officials are leaning toward the former so that city can retain ownership of the new building.

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