County officials rush to make new juvenile detention plans

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Officials with the Hancock County Probation Department are in the midst of securing a new home for county juveniles who offend and must be held in custody.

Officials with the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center, which is managed and operated by the Youth Opportunity Center in Delaware County, have informed local officials they will no longer be able to provide services for Hancock County juveniles due to staffing issues as soon as 2023.

The split has left county officials scrambling to find a new home for troubled teens.

Hancock County Circuit Court Judge Scott Sirk oversees the local probation department for the county courts and said the decision by Delaware County caught the county off guard.

“We thought we were good with the folks in Delaware County, but they decided they were no longer going to offer us services,” Sirk said. “This came as a surprise to us so we’re in the process of adjusting to that.”

Sirk noted they’re hoping there will be no additional costs and said they will work hard to make sure that is the case as they were trying to formalize plans to partner with officials in Johnson and Hamilton Counties as well as utilize county services with Community Corrections if possible.

“This will involve more transportation from our Hancock County Sheriff’s Department than previously, but we will ensure the safety of the community,” Sirk said. “Our goal is to keep the community safe and to ensure the juveniles get the best services they can.”

The Hancock County Commissioners voted unanimously this week to terminate their contract with the Youth Opportunity Center for juvenile detention services as of Dec. 31. The agreement includes a clause in which both parties can mutually agree to terminate the contract.

The Youth Opportunity Center has had an agreement with Hancock County since 2014 and the current contract was slated to run through next year.

Josh Sipes, chief probation officer for the county, told the county commissioners the Youth Opportunity Center approached him in late October about not being able to fulfill its agreement with Hancock County for 2023.

David Dickerson, business development director for the Youth Opportunity Center, told the Hancock County Commissioners the facility is unable to achieve adequate staffing to serve the county’s juvenile detention needs.

“We’re going to go to a per-diem model where I can just bring in kids based on what my staffing allows me to do,” Dickerson said. “That’s what we’re going to do moving forward. We’d still love to work with Hancock County and other counties as well too, so we will have some beds available, but it’s going to be on a first-come, first-served, per-diem model. Transportation takes staff out of the building for a long time too, so I’ve got to do away with that at this point.”

Dickerson and Youth Opportunity Center CEO Rick Rowray apologized to the Hancock County Commissioners for seeking the termination of the contract. They added they hope to increase their staffing and return to being able to serve the county again in the future.

Sipes said he’s working to determine how the county will handle juvenile detention moving forward, adding he’s contacted facilities in Johnson and Hamilton counties.

“Nobody currently is going to enter into a contract, so we will be begging for beds with every other county, if you will,” he said. “…Once you get past Johnson, Hamilton, Delaware, you’re looking at Columbus, Terre Haute, Dearborn, Lake – these are not close.”

The county has budgeted $225,000 for detention services for 2023. Sipes said the county was paying roughly $100 a day per bed in Delaware County, and the least expensive he can currently find is $160 a day, not including transportation. Law enforcement agencies throughout the county will now have to transport juveniles to and from detention facilities.

Hancock County currently has juveniles at the Youth Opportunity Center, Sipes said, adding he plans to have them moved before Christmas.

Sipes also said there could be situations in which children the county would normally have detained will not be detained. He’s exploring alternatives, including home detention and creating other programming he may have to seek additional funding approval for from the Hancock County Council.

Sirk noted that officials with Community Corrections can work with juveniles, and he’d like to see them utilize the local service more after the sudden decision by officials in Delaware County.

“It will always be a case-by-case basis, but Community Corrections could help out with those cases where the juvenile is not a threat to the community or an alleged victim,” Sirk said.

That’s something Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton would be in favor of, keeping local juveniles in the county if possible. Eaton noted he’s never liked the fact the county has outsourced the juvenile housing program.

“When you outsource some of your needs to a third party this is a risk that is present,” Eaton said.

Easton, like other county officials, knows there has to be a quick solution where county officials make sure juveniles will be served and those who need to be held are not released.

“I know that as soon as this issue came up Josh got to work ,and he has been working hard to find the appropriate place for Hancock County after he was given a pretty much impossible task to solve,” Eaton said. “This was an unexpected challenge presented to us late in the calendar year.”

Eaton noted the county used the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center in nearby Muncie “heavily” and said losing the resource is a significant problem.

The ideal and long-term solution both Sirk and Eaton admitted would be for the county to not have to outsource the service at all, but to have a local facility to house and serve juveniles.

“If we had our own place, we would not be in the situation we are in right now,” Eaton said. “It is a fact we are seeing a greater volume of more juvenile offenders and that is a trend.”

For the purpose of public safety, having a large number of beds available for juveniles in need of services has been a valuable tool in maintaining public order, Eaton said of the Delaware County center.

“The only issue with using our Community Corrections is there are many regulations with juveniles,” Eaton said.

Mitchell Kirk contributed to this story.

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