For years, teenagers in Kansas City, Kansas, who have committed a crime served their time in the adult detention center in Wyandotte County, putting the county jail near or over capacity every day.
But the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, has invested time and money toward a building for the teens, which is being built behind the juvenile court building. County officials hope to see the project completed by 2020.
Sheriff Don Ash said the $25 million project is long overdue, as talks first began about the project in 2004. The old juvenile detention center was condemned by the state several years ago, and housing teenagers in the jail was meant as a temporary fix. That's because it's designed, Ash said, for maximum-custody adult inmates.
"They've had a lot of trauma in their life for one reason or another, and putting them in that type of a detention environment really puts another traumatic experience on them," Ash told KCUR of the teens.
The new center will be designed with teenagers' needs in mind, and will including programming for the youth and their families, as well as trauma-informed care.
"The goal is to get these juveniles on a path of rehabilitation and productivity rather than simply warehousing them in an adult jail that's a lot like a prison and, in essence, institutionalizes them at an early age," Ash said, adding that the county has seen way too many young people get caught in a cycle of crime and end up back in jail as adults.
He emphasized that the project is not a reflection of an uptick in youth-related crime or violence. The number of teenagers taken into custody has gone down, he said — from about 40 in 2009 to about 20 in 2017.
The new building will be able to hold 40 teens at a time. Ash said it will be a secure facility, but it won't have steel sliding doors or concrete walls.
Instead, there will be more windows, so the inmates can see out, though passersby won't be able to see in.