Selma Detention Center in the works

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

If you’re old enough to do the crime, then you’re old enough to do the time.

Or so the saying goes.

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Officials of Dallas County stand in agreement and are proactive in preparing a place for youths to do so. According to County Commissioner Kim Ballard, the Department of Youth Centers has approved the proposed plan to move forward with opening a Youth Detention Center in Selma.

The plan is to renovate property on the west side of the Dallas County jail – the Varner Education and Training Facility (VET, also known as boot camp) – so that it meets state requirements for a detention center.

The center would house juveniles 17 and younger – 12 males, eight females – sentenced to detention for committing delinquent acts.

The county is currently preparing a contract bid package.

After a bid has been accepted, renovation will begin.

Officials said the goal is to have the facility up and running within a year.

“It’s real important that the public know our spirit in all this is not to throw kids away, but it’s part of an overall strategy to help our children and to help our community,” said District Court Judge Bob Armstrong.

According to statistics compiled by the Administrative Office of Courts in Montgomery, Dallas County ranks dead last in violent juvenile crime in 2005 – the worst in the state.

According to Armstrong, these numbers are so high as a result of juveniles committing simple assaults such as fighting.

“Simple assault is off the chain here,” said Armstrong.

“I mean it’s so high, it’s incredible.”

Because Dallas County does not currently have a detention center, other options must be sought.

According to officials, Hale County is Dallas County’s primary detention facility, costing the county roughly $250,000 per year.

The facility charges $85 per day, per juvenile.

The Baldwin County facility charges $92.

“We spent $30,000 last month for juveniles to be detained,” said Ballard.

Although the Hale County facility is the regional facility, space isn’t always available,

therefore, an alternative facility must be sought and that can prove to be a difficult task – not to mention costly.

“It’s a nightmare sometimes trying to get kids to detention,” said Armstrong.

“You’ve got to drive 100 miles round trip to pick them up from detention.

When you’re done (with court proceedings) you have to take them back to detention – the ones that have to go back.

That’s four hours in a day.

That doesn’t take into account special hearings,” he said.

Not only is outsourcing costly for the county, it can be economically and emotionally taxing for the families of the delinquents.

“The parents want to visit them,” said Ballard.

“They can’t go all the way to Hale County, Baldwin County, and all these different places to visit them.”

According to officials, the Dallas County facility would not be a regional facility such as Hale.

It would be primarily for Dallas County juveniles.

Armstrong reiterates that although having a facility would be more economical, the main reason is to improve the quality of life for “our kids” and the community by reducing crime.

He said, “we’ll do a better job with our children and have a better success rate and give our children a chance for a better future.”