VINCENNES — Juvenile justice officials are looking for a new place to turn following the announcement of the pending closing of the Southwest Regional Youth Village.

The parent company for the Youth Village has cited financial problems in announcing that the juvenile facility will be shuttered completely at the end of next month.

“March 29 is our projected date to close. We have one program that is still in progress. We have about 20 beds open for use for detainees,” said Southwest Indiana Regional Youth Village Administrator Mollie Ewing. “We are the last of the non-profits to operate a project like this. Most others in the state are operated by counties or municipalities that take care of incarcerated environments. It no longer works as a business model because of financial and health care accrediting reasons.”

The pending closing is sending shock waves through the juvenile system in the 38 counties the Youth Village serves.

“The closing is going to have a negative domino effect through our entire juvenile justice system in this part of the state,” said Daviess Circuit Court Judge Greg Smith, who handles juvenile cases in the county. “It is going to cause a problem here, because we are still going to need a detention center for juveniles.”

The Youth Village began in a different time. One where juveniles were often arrested for things that were crimes only because of their age. Arrests were made for things as small at curfew violations and being a runaway or truancy.

“Years ago, juveniles were taken to the local jails and put in with the prisoners. Then the federal and state laws were changed where we could not hold them together. Now, the federal directive is you cannot have juveniles even near an adult facility,” said Smith, who points out that while status offenses no longer require a trip to jail, there is still a need for a place to hold juvenile criminals. “Delinquent acts you can still detain. That is still our last go-to and every county has to have a place where there is detention. There are times we have juveniles committing acts that would be felonies if they were an adult, and it turns out there is no family member who can take them in or they don’t want to take them. Then we are left with having to take custody of them. Sometimes they have to be detained because there has to be some consequence for what they have done.”

Smith says judges are considering alternative sentencing to detention but even that can turn into bigger problems that get the court even more deeply embroiled in the detention issues.

“We may get to the point where we have to tell the parents, “You are going to have to take them.” We will put them on electronic monitoring or some other expense to the local counties,” said Smith. “What happens when the parents say they don’t want to take them back? That leaves us contacting DCS telling them we have parents that have abandoned their children.”

Last fall, the Youth Village ran into some administrative problems and announced they would begin working toward an eventual closing.

“Southwest had some issues recently with their management and could no longer take as many juveniles, so we began sending juveniles to Johnson County,” said Smith. “That means our sheriff’s department has to transport them. That takes extra time and expense. When we were contracted with Southwest, they did most of the transporting.”

“All of Southwestern Indiana is going to feel the cost and inconvenience of this facility shutting down,” added Daviess County Sheriff Gary Allison. “We have been kind of spoiled. With Southwest, we would get them over there and sometimes they would even pick them up and transport them to their court hearings. That took a lot of work off of us that we are now going to have to pick up because the people at Johnson County are not going to drive down here.”

Johnson County is one of a handful of places that now detain juveniles. None of them are conveniently located. One is in Vigo County, another in Clark County, and there is one in Evansville but it only takes juveniles from Warrick and Vanderburgh counties.

The combination of need, cost and lost time now has local officials scrambling to try and come up with alternatives to try and put together secure detention for juvenile offenders.

“The sheriff in Knox County has asked several of the surrounding counties if there would be an interest in purchasing that and running our own juvenile center at a cost of $9.9 million,” Allison recently told the Daviess County Council.

“I have been in touch with Judge Gara Lee in Knox County and Judge Jeff Biesterveld in Pike County, all of the members of the administrative district for the court. All of the judges with juvenile jurisdiction are conferring and we are going to have a meeting March 7 where we are going to discuss alternatives. We are going to look and see if there are any counties that are willing to step up and start a detention facility where all of the counties contribute to its operation,” said Smith. “We don’t know of any place right now that would have the property or the money to get something going.”

Meanwhile, the Youth Village has informed the counties of their plans to close and is holding job fairs for the remaining employees in hopes of helping them land new jobs.
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