SALINAS, Calif.- Millions of dollars are being set aside for a brand new juvenile hall on the Central Coast. The Monterey County Probation Department said it's been in need of a new facility for decades.
Juvenile officers said the current building on Natividad Road leaks when it rains, has cracks in the foundation and doesn't meet their needs. But is there enough money devoted to preventing kids from ending up in juvenile hall in the first place?
On Monday we took a tour of the current juvenile hall to see the outdated building. But we also checked to see if prevention programs are getting the funding they need. The probation department said yes. But they said what's really lacking are services when kids find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
"It used to be an old laundry room," said Monterey County Probation Division Director Jose Ramirez, as he describes a small interview room inside juvenile hall.
It's more than 50 years old and probation officers said it wasn't built to handle the type of young offenders it's seeing for serious crimes.
"When law enforcement comes in contact with the youth in our community and they're going to bring them into custody, they would be at juvenile hall first," Ramirez said.
The entrance isn't secured the same way the most jails are, with a drive-in garage, to keep juveniles in custody.
"So if a minor was to attempt to run from the police officer, he could do that," Ramirez said.
There are also problems with supervision. If a juvenile officer was standing in a blind area of the control center in the middle of the building, they may not be able to see something that shouldn't be going on down certain hallways.
So the probation department said it's been working on a state grant to build a new $52 million dollar complex on East Laurel Drive with better facilities. They said $35 million will come from the state and $17 million will come from the county.
"Public defenders, when they come in to meet with their clients, there's no specific place where they can have a confidential interview," said Monterey County Probation Chief Manuel Real.
It also doesn't have enough space for classrooms, special programs and medical services. On Monday, the probation department unveiled initial plans for the new complex. But some asked why that money couldn't be used on prevention. Chief Real said Silver Star, a program designed to keep kids out of trouble, recently faced federal funding cuts. But now it's back on track.
"So the board authorized some funding to keep the utilities going, to keep probation staff there," Real said.
The site for the new juvenile hall still has to be officially approved by the state before the project can move forward. The probation department said it could take 3 to 5 years before it's officially open.