Forsyth County’s youth detention center to close

Forsyth County’s youth detention center to close
June 04
00:00 2015

In photo above: Built in 1962, Forsyth’s Youth Center is one of 14 juvenile detention centers in the state. (Photo by Todd Luck)

Within the next few months, Forsyth County’s juvenile detention center will be closing and young detainees will start being housed in other counties.

The Forsyth County Services Youth Center located on Sturmer Park Circle, just off University Parkway, is scheduled to close in the first quarter of the fiscal year, sometime before October. Juveniles who have been accused of a criminal offense or are adjudicated pending court action will then be sent to other counties. The State decides were to send juveniles and has indicated Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center will be the top preference for Forsyth youth.

There are some circumstances were youth aren’t placed in the closest facility, for instance, co-defendants who need to be separated.

Last year county commissioners instructed the center’s staff to come up with a plan for phasing the facility out. In January, the commissioners agreed to lease the building to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, which plans to turn it into a 30-bed youth crisis facility serving a different population.

The current facility can hold 16 youth, ages 11-15, and serves Forsyth, Davie, Davidson, Surry, Stokes and Rowan Counties. Deputy County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt said that the facility, which was estimated to cost the county $517,000 this fiscal year, was not holding enough local youth to justify the cost and it was cheaper to pay for them to be held in other facilities. He said the facility averaged 12 youth at a time, and in February only five of them where from Forsyth.

“The numbers of Forsyth County youth being held in the county facility has been below the level the policy makers were comfortable subsidizing,” he said.

County Commissioner Walter Marshall said he’d fought for a long time to keep the facility open but eventually lost the battle. He was concerned for both the youth and the center’s employees, which the County is trying to place in new jobs. He said the commissioners heard precious little from the community in support of the facility, which he said has a disproportionate minority population.

“People need to become aware and become advocates for our kids,” he said.

Judge Denise Hartsfield was also disappointed in the decision. She was one of four judges who serve in juvenile court who sent a letter to the commissioners expressing concerns about the court psychologist having access to them in another county and the hardship it places on parents to visit their children.

Hartsfield said youth being transported from other counties are frequently late to court. She said that it also places a burden on parents who have to drop off and pick up their child when the court orders them to be detained for the weekend. She said there should be more local services for youth in the Forsyth juvenile system, not less.

Built in 1962, Forsyth’s Youth Center is one of 14 juvenile detention centers in the state. Ten are operated by the state’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and only four are county operated: Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Durham. The Forsyth facility detains 250 youth a year, 80 percent of whom are male and the most frequent age served is 14 to 15 years old. The average length of stay there is 17 days.
Youth spend most of their day in classes taught by a certified teacher so they don’t fall behind in their studies. The facility also provides individual and group counseling, substance abuse assessment and evaluation, substance abuse education, psychological testing, health screenings and health education. The center’s director, Sharon Singletary, said the goal is to put the kids back on the right path.

“There’s a small percentage of children that go on and end up in the criminal justice system forever, but most of these children, given the right dosages of intervention, they can recover from this and they can still go on to be healthy, productive citizens,” she said.

Singletary said the amount of youth detained at the center has been down in recent years. She said a change in state law kept many minor offenses like truancy and shoplifting from resulting in detention. Now it’s more serious offenses like assault that bring youth there. She also said diversionary programs and alternatives like electronic tracking bracelets have also kept youth from being detained. However, since March the facility seen an unusual increase and has been at or around capacity since then.

Since the population there is constantly changing and it’s unknown how soon it will happen, parents have yet to be informed of the closure. She said the facility allows for half-hour visitation by parents during a two-hour window on Thursdays and Sundays. She said Forsyth County youth tend to be visited by parents, while out-of-county youth often aren’t. She said some local families will have to get creative in visiting their children in other counties. She said she’s seen parents take the bus and even walk to the center to see their children at the center.
She’s instructed the center’s 21 employees to look for other jobs. She said she had faith Forsyth youth will continue to receive good care at the detention center in Guilford County.

“It’s the end of an era,” she said. “We’ve helped a lot of kids. Thousands and thousands of children have come through these doors, and I feel like we’ve provided Forsyth County and the other counties, the neighboring counties, with an excellent service. We have been very impactful into the lives of the children we’ve served.”

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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