Apache County detention center turned into youth center

Posted: Updated:

The idea of repurposing empty detention centers is catching on in Arizona as the rate of juvenile crime and detention populations continue to fall.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports (http://bit.ly/2hZJ8Mt) that Apache County converted a former juvenile detention center in St. Johns into a new community center that caters to young people.

"In rural Arizona, there just aren't a lot of safe spaces for teens to gather, and this is really an inspired effort to create something new that the kids will value," said Heather Murphy, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts. "It's a special space made just for them."

The Apache County center, known as LOFT, offers pool, ping-pong tables, desktop computers, free internet and a music room equipped with guitars and an electric keyboard. It is open to those who have finished eighth grade but not yet graduated high school.

Apache County closed its detention facility in 2015 after it was unable to reconcile the $1.2 million in annual costs to keep its doors open.

Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Latham said the county's juvenile detention population had slowed to a trickle, amounting to an average of just 1.7 kids per day.

It could go six, seven, eight weeks without a single kid, yet the center had to be staffed as a full-time facility just in case someone happened to come along.

[RELATED: Fewer children being held in Arizona juvenile detention centers]

That meant two detention officers at all times, and a full-time teacher and medical staff. It didn't make fiscal sense.

The county instead contracted with Navajo County to hold its juvenile offenders for $90,000 a year, a drop in the bucket compared to the previous costs.

But officials had to find yet another alternative when Navajo County, too, opted to close its detention center in June.

Pinal County has since been contracted to take both Apache and Navajo counties' juveniles.

Through that partnership, Latham said detention costs are expected to plummet below $20,000 per year.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.