By Ann McCreary and Marcy Stamper
Two Okanogan County Superior Court judges came to the Twisp Town Council last week to appeal for the town’s support in keeping juvenile detention in Okanogan County.
Judges Henry Rawson and Christopher Culp attended the May 24 council meeting, along with several people who work in juvenile justice in the county, to explain why they oppose the idea of housing juvenile offenders outside of the county.
Over the past three months, Okanogan County commissioners have been analyzing the costs and other ramifications of continuing to operate the county’s own juvenile-detention facility in Okanogan versus paying for space at a facility in another county.
Transporting juveniles out of the county “doesn’t make sense from an economic standpoint, or from a social standpoint,” said Culp.
Commissioners seem unable to provide an explanation of why they are considering transporting juveniles to a facility outside of Okanogan County.
“You have the appearance of the cart before the horse. They [county commissioners] want to find out all about this but they don’t know why they are doing it,” Culp said.
When he’s attended County Commission meetings to discuss juvenile detention, “I feel like I’m being cross-examined and asked to defend keeping detention in Okanogan County,” Culp said.
Commissioners are evaluating options including building a new facility to replace the one built in 1974, housing juveniles at Martin Hall, a maximum-security facility near Spokane, or at taking them to a Chelan County juvenile facility in Wenatchee.
Dennis Rabidou, Okanogan County Juvenile Court administrator, said that housing juveniles outside Okanogan County is likely to cost towns and cities more due to transportation costs and daily rates charged by the facilities. He said the daily rate at Martin Hall is $155 per day, Chelan County is $120, and Okanogan County is $110.
“It’s not a cost-saver. You’re costing the taxpayers significantly more,” to take juvenile offenders outside of Okanogan, Rabidou said.
Outcomes for juvenile offenders are better when they remain in the community, he said. “You don’t outsource them. The community connection is important.”
He said liability is another concern for towns and cities, because they would be liable for the welfare of juvenile offenders while they are being transported.
Rawson said he is unaware of anybody, beside the commissioners, who is supporting the idea of moving juvenile detention out of the county.
“They [commissioners] are running rogue right now,” Rawson said. “No one has written an email or anything saying we should do something different.”
Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said the issue and potential financial impacts are a concern to Twisp.
“Our small police department would be taxed if we had to do a multi-hour transport. The police chief and I have talked about it,” Ing-Moody said.
If county commissioners decide to move juvenile detention out of the county, Culp said they may face a legal challenge. State law stipulates in RCW 13.40.038 that “youth remain in the community whenever possible.”
“We don’t believe they have the statutory authority at all” to move juvenile detention out of the county, Culp said.
The judges said they have appeared before other town councils to seek support for maintaining juvenile detention in Okanogan, and have resolutions of support from Coulee Dam, Elmer City and Omak.
Twisp Council members postponed action on a resolution at last week’s meeting, deciding instead to invite County Commissioner Ray Campbell, who represents the Methow Valley, to a council meeting to discuss the issue.
The Okanogan County commissioners have scheduled two more public meetings as part of their information gathering about the county’s options for juvenile detention and services.
At the next meeting on June 14, the county’s juvenile department will do a presentation about the programs and services provided by county staff, according to Perry Huston, the county’s administrative officer.
On June 21, Judge Culp will review legal issues connected with juvenile services.
The commissioners heard presentations from members of the nine-county consortium that operates Martin Hall and from Chelan County at two separate meetings in May. The commissioners have received about 40 letters from the public on the matter, all but one opposed to sending youths out of the county.
The county commissioners — both previous boards and the current board — have looked at this matter in the past but, while they continued to use the Okanogan facility, they did not provide a long-range plan for the aging building, said Huston. The county failed to obtain funding three years ago for a new justice facility that would have replaced the juvenile-detention facility and upgraded the adjacent courthouse.
At the end of this process, the commissioners will review all the input before making a decision, said Huston.
Documents pertaining to state law and juvenile services in general and letters to the commissioners from the public and professionals who work with youths are available on the planning department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning.
A summary of the Chelan County presentation will be posted online. The Martin Hall consortium has submitted proposals to the commissioners several times over the past 13 years. They did not present a new proposal this year, said Huston, who said he believes they are still working with their proposal from two or three years ago.
The upcoming Tuesday-night meetings are at 6 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan.