2019 #Catalyst4Change Finalist
Apache County Detention Center
St. Johns, Arizona
When he shut down the Apache County Detention Center (Arizona), Judge Michael Latham had the innovative idea to turn it into a drop-in teen center for local high school aged kids. Not a typical item on a Judge’s roster, this vision was a result of the changing landscape in Apache County. While the county had experienced a decline in the number of teens entering the juvenile justice system for years, the youth had no place to go after school and on weekends.
Time For A Change
When Judge Latham became the Presiding Judge in Apache County in 2015, the Juvenile Detention Center was costing over $1 million dollars to run annually. Averaging 1.7 juveniles per day, the center was often empty for stretches that lasted weeks at time. Recognizing that it was not cost efficient to maintain the center and staff full-time the 11-bed facility, Judge Latham ordered the center closed in May 2015. For a while they used another detention center to meet their needs. However, in 2017 that facility was scheduled to be closed and it was time for a Apache County to develop a new plan. That’s when Judge Latham presented the idea of a Legacy Teen Center called the LOFT. The vision included transforming the aged detention center into a hip loft inspired venue offering a wide range of activities, technology and amenities to local area youth that needed something to do to.
Remodeling the detention center was more than just a construction project, it was a labor of love for the Judge and members of the Court’s staff. To save money, the transformation of the old detention center to the new teen center was done mostly by staff within the probation department and the Superior Court.
Something for Everyone
Since the program’s inception, keeping kids active and engaged in positive activities has been top of mind. The center ensures engagement by making available a large variety, and incredibly cool, offering of activities and places for students to interact. The LOFT provides a technology space, rooms for music and games, a sound recording studio, education room, along with a lounge, kitchen and enclosed outdoor courtyard. Amenities include air hockey, ping pong, Xbox, pool table, bocce ball court and a climbing wall. Many of The LOFT’s activities are multi-purposed, encourage interaction and teach pro-social life skills such as a music room stocked with instruments to help youth learn to play instruments and jam together. The technology space offer computers, a green screen and tools to help students produce and edit photos and videos.
The center also provides critical components the county needs to fully support their juvenile population. Two of the center’s rooms are designated as respite rooms. This allows law enforcement other options when dealing with domestic situations. Now, youths have a safe place to stay the night without being detained. These rooms have become an important part of the system.
Additionally, the center has an intake area where juveniles are screened for detention. If the juvenile does not meet the requirement to be detained, the juvenile can be released to the parents, or a responsible party, or sent to the respite side.
The transformation as encompassed more than just a physical space. It has sparked the reconfiguration of the juvenile justice system across the state. Bottom-line, shutting down the detention center and opening The LOFT reduced the money spent in detaining kids by 95-percent, from $1.2 million to $22,000 the first year. Juvenile referrals in St. Johns (where the center is located), went from 41 referrals in the year before the teen center opened to 18 referrals. That is over a 55-percent reduction in juveniles and families that are entering the criminal justice system.
- The teen center averages between 20-30 teens a night.
- Since the center’s opening in July 2017 there has been a 55-percent reduction in juveniles and families entering the criminal justice system.
- The LOFT has reduced the money spent in detaining kids by 95-percent.
- The center is open to all kids in the community under age 20 who have graduated 8th grade but have not yet graduated high school.
- There is no charge to use the facility.
- The LOFT uses court staff, so there is no additional cost to the county for staffing.
- Support from community stakeholders as well as members of the criminal justice community has been overwhelmingly positive.