Allentown
68° F
Overcast
Overcast

Officials announce closing of juvenile detention center

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, @CatherineH_WFMZ, chawley@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 27 2014 05:00:05 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 28 2014 05:54:47 AM CST

It's been a part of Lehigh County since 1949.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

It's been a part of Lehigh County since 1949.

A brand new Lehigh County Detention Center was unveiled just nine years ago.

Built in 2005, the facility could house 48 residents, but in recent years, officials say only about 14 people were sent there each year.

"There's been a significant reduction in incarcerated juveniles," said Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller during the State of the County Address Thursday.

He says the facility's low numbers are the reason employees at the Juvenile Detention Center were notified Wednesday the facility is shutting down.

"We have arrangements with Northampton County and two other counties to handle our housing needs," he added.

Corrections officials say a program that evaluates young people to determine if they should be detained is keeping the detention center numbers down.

Criminal Justice Professor Jack Gasper, of Lehigh Carbon Community College, says he was surprised to hear about the closure, but calls it good news, saying the juvenile justice system is often criticized as being over-institutionalized.

"They're very progressive, they're concerned with restorative justice," he explained. "So obviously they have screened these juveniles and determined there are alternatives to detention."

The move means a majority of the 24 full-time employees will lose their jobs. But it has financial benefits for Lehigh County.

"In the process we are going to save $750,000 a year for the taxpayers," shared Muller.

The 2014 budget had a deficit of $8-million. Muller says he's been instructed to eliminate the gap, and come up with $14-million in spending cuts.

"All the parties involved had their heads together to figure out how do we do it," Muller added. "How do we save the money and yet deliver the services requires of those juveniles?"

Muller says the specialized facility will essentially be "mothballed" in case it needs to reopen in the future.