State’s new ‘Raise the Age’ rules take effect Oct. 1; St. Lawrence County officials still figuring out gameplan

CANTON — As the deadline approaches, St. Lawrence County officials are still fine-tuning how they will follow a new state law that prohibits putting law-breakers under age 18 in traditional jails with older inmates.

The state’s “Raise the Age” legislation takes effect Oct. 1 for 16-year-olds. A year later, Oct. 1, 2019, it expands to include 17-year-olds.

Earlier this year, county legislators backed off on a proposal to open a juvenile detention facility because they’re afraid the county will be financially stuck if the state doesn’t follow through with providing full reimbursement for such projects.

Instead, Probation Director Timothy LePage and Social Services Commissioner Christopher Rediehs told legislators Monday night they anticipate that the majority of juvenile offenders will be supervised with electronic home monitoring. Some may be temporarily placed with other families through the county’s Department of Social Services.

“Detention and placement (in a facility) would only be needed in the most extreme cases,” Mr. LePage said.

He said state officials are supportive of keeping 16- and 17-year-olds out of detention facilities as much as possible.

The state is also encouraging counties to implement “evidence-based” programs for juvenile offenders, such as interactive journaling and mentoring. Those programs involve having trained probation officers teach juveniles about a variety of topics such as alcohol and drug abuse, resume writing, personal hygiene and other life skills.

Mr. LePage said the approach has gotten positive reviews from probation officials in other areas.

“The interactive journaling seems to be really effective,” he told lawmakers. “They love it downstate, so we’ll see.”

The state will provide funding to implement the programs, he said.

“It’s what we’re kind of doing now with our 14- and 15-year-olds. This actually helps us out because we’ll get the resources from the state to help us pay,” Mr. LePage said.

County Vice Chairman Joseph Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, asked, “When a judge says this person needs to be locked up, what are you going to do?”

Mr. Rediehs responded, “We do have an issue that we are uncertain at this point at how we will address that.”

The county currently sends 14- and 15-year-olds to juvenile detention centers in other parts of the state, but after “Raise the Age” takes effect next month, those facilities are not expected to be available.

Several county officials met last week to talk about the issue, including Mr. LePage, Mr. Rediehs, Family Court Judge Cecily Morris, District Attorney Gary Pasqua, County Administrator Ruth Doyle, Undersheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe and County Attorney Stephen D. Button.

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