The Benton Franklin Juvenile Detention Center needs another $187,000 to teach young criminal offenders that crime doesn't pay.
Benton County's Law and Justice Committee met with county commissioners Wednesday to urge them to restore three full-time positions so the center can stop early release of juvenile inmates.
Sharon Paradis, Benton Franklin Juvenile Court administrator, said budget cuts 15 months ago took away three detention officer positions and cut the center's capacity from 50 offenders to a maximum of 33, plus two more beds paid for by the state.
As a result, the center had to resort toearly releases to make room for incoming juveniles.
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"It undercuts the message we're trying to send if an offender gets out early," said County Prosecutor Andy Miller. He said detention is the best way to deal with young offenders.
But with the staff cuts and reduction in beds, youths come into the lockup calculating when they can get out instead of learning from the punishment, Miller said.
Eric Hsu, who oversees the Office of Public Defense for the two counties, said offenders "are gaming the system."
Commissioners Jim Beaver and Shon Small were supportive.
"We do want to find a solution to this," Small said.
"And we need to make this decision soon," said Beaver, who indicated it would happen at Monday's commission meeting in Prosser.
"It will be as soon as possible," he said.
Commission Leo Bowman did not attend Wednesday's workshop in Kennewick.
Paradis noted that if Benton County is willing to put up the needed $187,280, the next question is how to divide up the added 17 beds.
Franklin County contributes 30 percent of the detention center budget, and Benton County 70 percent. That equates to 11 beds for Franklin County and 22 for Benton County, Paradis said.
But the beds aren't segregated by county. They are for whoever is the most serious offender, she said.
Paradis said if another 17 beds become available with additional Benton County money, commissioners must decide whether to extend the current method of assigning beds or to devote the additional beds to Benton County offenders.
The risk is there likely would be more releases of serious Franklin County offenders, while less serious Benton County offenders remained in detention.
That issue won't be decided until after commissioners act on the her request, Paradis said.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; email@example.com