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Published October 04 2011

Juvenile detention facility to move to revamped block of Cass County Jail

FARGO – When a teenage boy kicks open the double-locked steel door of your most secure cell, it’s time to get a new juvenile detention center.

Capt. Judy Tollefson of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office said that incident in September was “the final straw” for officials debating whether to move the center from the Cass County Annex to a vacant cell block at the county jail.

Juveniles will soon relocate to the 25-cell “pod” on the north side of the jail.

The pod has housed juveniles several times in the past couple of years, including during flood fights and during sewer work at the annex, Tollefson said.

“It became evident that it was a good fit, a better fit,” she said.

Otherwise, the pod has remained empty since two 48-bed cell blocks opened in 2007 as an addition to the nine-year-old jail at 450 34th St. S.

The county will give tours of the 6,360-square-foot juvenile pod during an open house today for media and interested parties who work with youths.

The new detention center has a number of features to make it look less like a jail: porcelain fixtures instead of steel, wooden doors instead of metal and skylights for natural light.

And, unlike the 11-bed annex, the pod sports an indoor recreation room with a basketball hoop for blowing off teenage steam. The day area also is bigger.

Still, security was the main reason for the move, Tollefson said. The pod has jail-quality doors and a security cell with a steel door and food ports.

“So, if somebody is acting out or intoxicated or needs a time out, there’s a secure place for them to go,” she said.

The visitation room at the annex, which allowed physical contact, is being replaced with window-separation booths, which should help reduce contraband issues, Tollefson said.

The location also will improve response times from minutes to seconds when detention officers need help from jail staff.

“Being out there, if something ever happened, we’d have help right away,” detention officer Cynthia Briard said.

The county averages about eight or nine juveniles in detention per day, Tollefson said.

Discussions about moving the center began a couple of years ago, but officials needed to see jail inmate numbers stabilize before reserving the vacant pod for juveniles, she said.

Built in the mid-1970s, the annex has been well-maintained and served its purpose but has outlived its practicality as a detention center, Tollefson said.

“The original design basically was for kids who were truant, maybe caught smoking … but we just have a whole different caliber of kid that comes in now,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528