Juvenile Justice Center set for expansion
In anticipation of the Texas Legislature raising the age at which accused criminal offenders are considered adults, the Williamson County Commissioners Court last week set aside $200,000 to plan for an expansion at the county’s Juvenile Justice Center.
Bills pending in the state House and Senate would raise the age at which young people accused of crimes would enter the adult legal system from 17 to 18. Commissioners first discussed the possibility during a Feb. 28 budget workshop, expressing a sense of urgency to prepare for the anticipated change.
“We’re guessing we’ll have about a year to prepare for that,” County Judge Dan Gattis said. “We’re trying to get a little bit ahead of that. If we don’t have to build, we don’t have to build, but I think we’re going to have to build this.”
Juvenile Services Executive Director Scott Matthew said county jail records indicate that in 2016 the jail held 340 17-year-olds separated from the adult population for a total of 2,270 days. About four or five 17-year-olds were currently in the jail, he added.
Based on that, and pending legislative action, Matthew said he thinks a wing with 15 more beds would need to be added to the 96-bed facility he oversees.
As with the adult jail, those in juvenile lockup are separated by classification, Matthew said. Half of the 96 beds are allocated for the general population and the other half for single-cell “secure detention.” He said the secure-detention side is almost always filled to capacity.
Matthew noted the Juvenile Justice Center has not been expanded since it opened in 2002, despite the increase in Williamson County’s population. The detention center is located off the Inner Loop in Georgetown, near the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.
The $200,000 commissioners allocated will be put toward paying for architectural, engineering and design services.
According to background information in the court’s agenda packet, the entire expansion project would cost about $1.2 million. No money has been set aside for construction. Commissioner last week also:
Agreed with Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook that information about county-appointed boards and commissions should be included on the website. Information is to include what the board or commission does, who is serving on it and the dates for their terms of office.
Approved the appointment of Byron Totty as a deputy constable for Precinct 1.
Accepted $84,388 in grant funding for a 12-month position in the county’s Emergency Management Division. The person hired will analyze and plan for potential chemical emergencies.
Approved County Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Laura Barker’s request that grant funding pay for a part-time coordinator in the Veterans Court and a part-time coordinator in the DWI court. Barker said the idea is “to get people treatment faster.” There has been one clerk handling both courts, but that person will now return to previous duties in the adult probation department.
The Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center opened in 2002, but has not been expanded, even though the county’s population has grown.