NC officials scramble to move teens from Charlotte before juvenile jail closes

Mecklenburg’s Juvenile Detention Center is set to close Dec. 1, and North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety is struggling to find new placements for some the teens currently housed in the 72-bed facility.

Previously, advocates for criminal justice reform have said they’re highly concerned that many local incarcerated youth will be transferred hours away from loved ones. With the clock ticking, confirmation that state officials are scrambling to make transfers exacerbates the concern.

Diana Kees, deputy director of analysis, research and external affairs for DPS, told The Charlotte Observer in an email the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is having difficulty finding space to house the juveniles who are court-ordered to be held in secure custody.

“The number of available state juvenile justice detention beds are already stretched thin,” Kees said.

Kees said DPS’ juvenile justice department is struggling with hiring staff.

“Multiple hiring events and job fairs, both virtual and in-person, have been implemented over the summer and fall, but we have not been able to bring in enough new staff to operate additional beds at some of the state’s existing juvenile detention centers,” Kees said.

The precise number of incarcerated youth currently in the Mecklenburg facility was not available Wednesday. But, Kees said, most juveniles have already been moved from Mecklenburg to surrounding counties.

All teens still in the Charlotte facility, she said, are Mecklenburg residents.

For those remaining, the department is finding it difficult to place them in the state’s other 11 juvenile detention centers.

Of these remaining facilities, five are state operated and the rest are maintained by county offices, similar to Mecklenburg.

Mecklenburg juvenile jail closing

The Department of Public Safety pushed back against the county’s decision to close the facility when it was first introduced in the county’s budget proposal in May.

In a letter from NCDPS Deputy Secretary William Lassiter the agency wrote that without the facility, it would have difficulty finding space — especially to place those in custody close to home.

“The number of available state juvenile justice detention beds are already stretched thin due in part to changes in law mandating that all juveniles must be held in juvenile detention rather than jail,” he said.

Under North Carolina’s Raise the Age law, which went into effect in 2019, most 16- and 17-year-olds charged with crimes cannot automatically be sent to adult court.

Despite the state offering alternatives to the closure, county leaders in June voted to approve shutting down the facility.

Sheriff Garry McFadden said not renewing the contract for the Juvenile Detention Center with the state is the best option for staff. The closure will freeze 90 vacant jobs and allow detention center officers to work at the jail housing adults in uptown Charlotte, which is also suffering a staffing shortage.