Renovations, construction underway as 'Raise the Age' law creates need for more juvenile detention centers

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
'Raise the Age' law highlights need for more juvenile detention centers
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'Raise the Age' law highlights need for more juvenile detention centers

BUTNER, N.C. (WTVD) -- The "Raise the Age" law is highlighting the need for more Juvenile Detention facilities.

With 16- and 17-year-olds now considered minors in the Juvenile Justice System, the state is expected to see a 60 percent increase in detainees.

"So the Juvenile Justice System is really set up as rehabilitation system to help kids look at the mistakes, think through how do I make better decisions in the future and not to allow that one stupid mistake to count against them for the rest of their lives," said William Lassiter, deputy secretary of juvenile justice for the Department of Public Safety.

The Department of Public Safety is scrambling to renovate existing centers, such as Dillion Juvenile Detention Center, to make room for more kids and teens.

On the outside, it looked similar to an adult jail facility with fencing and gates. However Lassiter said this facility is much different.

"Every kid here goes to school," Lassiter said. "Every kid here is involved with programming. Every kid here has an individual service plan,"

Classrooms in the facility had computers, textbooks and state of the art technology.

Previously, teens sent to county jails were missing school. Lassister said he visited the Wake County Jail and found that only 10 out of 40 juveniles were even in school.

"A lot of times they just didn't have the resources to provide the resources to the kids," said Lassiter.

Aside from school, Lassiter said safety is also a priority. At Dillion, the staff to detainee ratio is just one to eight--on some days one to four.

All staff members double as licensed counselors and all teens are housed together in similar age groups.

"That's really one of the reasons we passed Raise the Age--to keep the younger population out of jails so they wouldn't be victimized by younger adults in those facilities," said Lassiter.

The state is setting aside $60M for juvenile justice. While Dillon can house up to one hundred, Lassiter hopes they never will have that many inmates.

"This is a last resort really for our juveniles. We try to serve them in the community," said Lassiter.

The facility will be complete within two weeks.