St. Lawrence County still seeking solution on ‘Raise the Age’ detention

CANTON — With plans to build a youth detention center in St. Lawrence County stalled, officials have submitted a plan to the state to deal with expected uptick in juvenile offenders.

Raise the Age Legislation will raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age. New York was previously one of only two states that automatically prosecuted 16-and-17-year-olds as adults.

The new measures will be phased in over time, raising the age of juvenile delinquency from age 16-to 17-years-old beginning on Oct. 1, 2018, and subsequently raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18years-old on Oct. 1, 2019.

Under the new law young people will no longer be permitted to be housed in adult facilities or jails. Instead they are to be placed in specialized juvenile detention facility certified by the State’s Office of Children and Family Services, and in conjunction with the State’s Commission of Correction.

This creates a major problem for North Country Counties where there are currently no beds for juvenile criminals.

The situation has been a major concern for St. Lawrence County legislators who have been working toward a solution that will be affordable to taxpayers, but as it stands nothing has been firmed up. Officials from the county visited Albany in March to submit plan, which remains in draft form and hasn’t been shared publicly.

Submitting the plan enables the county to be eligible for state reimbursement, should the facility come to fruition.

The state has budget $100 million to help establish the facilities across the state.

County Attorney Stephen Button said the county is expecting an influx of teens who will need to be housed in juvenile facilities. He said his office handled 38 cases in 2016, but expects that number to rise to 112.

Without a juvenile detention facility in the area, the county will be forced to transport juvenile detainees to Western New York or New York City.

To address this issue the county proposed rehabilitating the old county jail into a juvenile detention center, but state officials who toured the building said the old jail would likely be cost prohibitive.

Now the county is pivoting its plan and looking at building a new facility in the Canton or Potsdam area instead. According the Raise the Age legislation, such a facility would be paid for by the state as would the numerous jobs created by establishing the facility.

But other options are also being discussed. All of the options would include a significant increase in staffing.

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