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More Juvenile Crime Requires New Detention Centers

Posted February 8, 2008
Updated February 9, 2008

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— With juvenile crimes at an eight-year high in North Carolina, state officials are building four new juvenile detention facilities across the state.

One of the new "youth development centers" is in Chatham County. The $6 million center is designed for young girls. All four will replace obsolete facilities and will offer more specialized care, officials said.

"We're locking up juveniles, but these facilities are much more than that," said William Lassiter, manager of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence in the state Department of Juvenile Justice. "They are therapeutic environments. The kids get schooling here. They learn life skills here. They learn to cook and clean for themselves."

The center does not look like a jail from outside, but it features the highest level of security for juveniles. At night, girls ages 13 to 17 will be locked in cells.

"You have carpet on the floors, but you still need brick walls behind it, because they could escape and be a danger to the community," said Dwayne Patterson, chief deputy secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The number of youths in juvenile centers dropped dramatically after state lawmakers passed legislation that enabled those charged with minor offenses to get treatment outside detention centers.

Still, child advocates say locking up youths is not the answer to juvenile crime. The money spent on building and operating the detention centers would be better spent serving the youths in their communities through prevention, intervention and diversion programs, they said.

Lassiter said the detention centers are a last resort.

"We try to do everything we possibly can before they get to these facilities," he said. "I think a lot of these juveniles, if they don't get the help that they need here, they are going to end up in our adult (prison) system."

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