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Mecklenburg Sheriff says he has little choice but to close juvenile detention center

Sarah Delia
A student draws at a Jail North art class.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden told county commissioners Wednesday he turned down an offer from the state to rent Jail North and continue to run it as a juvenile detention center. The sheriff’s plan is to close the detention center in December and transfer staff to the main jail uptown to ease the staffing shortage there.

McFadden told commissioners he has little choice but to close the juvenile detention center. He says the staffing shortage at the main jail was especially bad late last year during the holidays.

“We had people working the pods 20 hours and so that is a dangerous mix and we didn’t want to get back into that. So we believe that bringing this additional staff from North will definitely help our staff and it will help morale also,” McFadden said.

The state has a contract with the sheriff’s office to run the juvenile detention center since those 17 and under are the state’s responsibility. That contract ends in December.

State public safety officials say closing the center would mean many teenagers would go to facilities as far as three or four hours from their families and lawyers. To keep that from happening, the state has offered to rent Jail North and operate it.

McFadden says that would likely present another staffing challenge because the state would be competing for staff from the same pool as the sheriff’s office.

“Then they’ll probably try to recruit some of the staff that is currently at the detention center, which will eliminate what I’m trying to do, which is staff my facility,” McFadden said.

The sheriff’s office has said closing the center will also save money since the state’s reimbursement doesn’t come close to covering the expense. The county is expected to lose nearly $16.7 million because the U.S. Marshall transferred so many federal detainees. That was after a state inspector said in December the staffing shortage posed “an imminent threat” to safety.

McFadden says while the plan is to close the detention center, the actual building will remain open in case there are additional needs for correctional services or to provide extra space for inmates in an emergency.

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.