St. Lawrence County’s old jail could become juvenile detention center as state preps for ‘Raise the Age’
Saturday, December 16, 2017 - 8:30 am

By JIMMY LAWTON

CANTON -- With the state’s “raise the age” laws set to kick in, St. Lawrence County is hoping to be the home of a juvenile detention center.

County Legislator Joseph Lightfoot said representatives from the state are coming to tour the county’s old jail Dec. 21 to assess if it could be remodeled and rehabilitated into a juvenile detention center.

“They’ll be up here taking a look at the former jail, or a portion of it to see how it would fit their needs,” Legislator Joseph Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said there are currently no juvenile detention centers located north of Interstate Highway 90, but in coming months the state is rolling out new laws that will require 16-year-olds to be housed in such centers rather than in traditional jails.

“The governor has given them until October to get this thing up and running no excuses, but right now we aren’t sure where we can put them,” he said. “There hasn’t been a plan laid out.”

Lightfoot said currently minors from the North Country are shipped to Erie, Nassau or Broome counties, but at a recent “Raise the Age” meeting, representatives from those counties expressed concerns that they would not have room to meet the needs of the new laws.

Lightfoot said local youths in those centers outside the area could get displaced in favor of youths from those particular counties, forcing the county to pick them up and find an alternate location. But as it stands, an alternate location doesn’t exist.

County Attorney Stephen Button said the county is expecting an influx of teens who will need to be housed in juvenile facilities. He said his office handled 38 cases in 2016, but expects that number to rise to 112.

“It puts us in a bind. We reached out to surrounding counties and there is some agreement that something needs to be done, but right now everyone’s kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen,” Lightfoot said. “As it stands we’ve got a building and need a center up here. The state is looking for a place to put one. We just need to find out if our their needs align with what we have to offer,” he said.

Button says there is an indication that the state could help offset costs associated with construction and rehabilitation of the project, but things remain up in the air at this time.

A juvenile detention center in St. Lawrence County would service six counties throughout the North Country reducing travel expenses for neighboring counties and possibly providing a revenue stream and a significant number of jobs locally.

Button said the conversations are in early stages but he thinks the county’s old jail will be a good fit.

He said a variety of state officials from corrections, to family services will attend the walk-through, along with an engineer. Locally, all St. Lawrence County legislators plan to attend as well. Button recently spoke in Albany on issues related to the “Raise The Age” laws, which will soon take effect.

New York was previously one of only two states in the nation that automatically processed all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter their offense.

The new measures will be phased in over time, raising the age of juvenile delinquency from age 16- to 17-years-old beginning on Oct. 1, 2018, and subsequently raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old on Oct. 1, 2019, according to Cuomo’s office.

Those who have been crime free for 10 years after serving a sentence will be able to apply for the sealing of previous criminal convictions.

Young people will also no longer be permitted to be housed in adult facilities or jails.

Under current law a juvenile delinquent is identified as someone between the ages of 17 and 16 years of age who has committed an act that would constitute a crime, or a violation, where such violation allegedly occurred in the same transaction for occurrence as the alleged criminal act, if committed by and adult.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2018, that will be expanded to include 17-year-olds. In Oct. 1, 2019, 18-year-olds will be considered juvenile delinquents.