A new state law set to take effect next fall will increase the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. As Matt Hunter reports, leaders in Warren County are already exploring how to handle the expected influx of offenders coming through the juvenile justice system.
QUEENSBURY, N.Y. – As director of probation in Warren County, Robert Iusi reviews the cases of between 50 and 60 youthful offenders up to the age of 16 each year. Almost always, he says the goal is to send them through a rehabilitative diversionary program that keeps them out of one of the state's five secure juvenile detention facilities like the one in Loudonville.
"I think studies would indicate anytime you put a youth of that age in any type of lockup or secure detention facility, that it's not healthy and it's not good for them," Iusi said.
On average, Iusi says fewer than three teens from Warren County end up in detention centers each year, but he expects a drastic increase in that number starting next fall. A new state law will result in judges no longer being able to send 16- and 17-year-olds to county jails with older adult inmates, instead having to house them in juvenile detention.
"I think you look at numbers probably upwards to potentially, 20 or 25 on a given year,” Iusi said, relying on 2016 statistics from the Warren County Jail.
With the juvenile center in Loudonville expected to run out of room for neighboring counties, leaders in Warren and Washington counties are exploring partnering on a facility of their own.
"If we can divide it between two counties, you're going to split the cost," said Queensbury at-large supervisor Doug Beaty, who chairs the county’s shared services committee.
Next week, state leaders will tour two properties in the Queensbury to see if it's feasible to convert either to a secure juvenile detention center.
"The visit by the state next week, giving us some guidelines on actually what type of facility they're looking for, will be huge for us," Beaty said.
In addition to visiting the former non-secure detention center, state officials will tour the old Warren County jail that shuttered more than a decade ago. The latter project would likely require hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lead and asbestos cleanup.
"When I say an 'old jail,' it is an old jail,” Iusi said. “It has bars like you would see in your traditional old western movies."
"The old jail, in my opinion, won't fly at all," said Beaty, who prefers a smaller facility with between eight and 10 beds.
Hoping to have a plan in place before the law takes effect, Iusi hopes most teens will still end up in diversionary programs that are designed to give them a chance at a better future.
"It gives us an opportunity to address their issues and provide services for them so hopefully we can stop their entry into the system," Iusi said.