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NC questions Mecklenburg proposal to close juvenile detention center

Mecklenburg County manager Dena Diorio has proposed closing the north Mecklenburg juvenile detention center.
Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg County manager Dena Diorio has proposed closing the north Mecklenburg juvenile detention center.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety wants Mecklenburg County to reconsider its plan to close the county’s juvenile detention center.

As part of her upcoming budget, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio has proposed closing the 72-bed juvenile jail off Statesville Road. She said that would save money and alleviate a staffing shortage at the county’s main detention center uptown.

But William Lassiter, deputy secretary of the department of public safety, questioned that plan in a letter Tuesday to Mecklenburg Commissioners. That was first reported by The Charlotte Observer.

He wrote that the number of juvenile detention beds statewide is “already stretched thin.” And since 75% of admissions at the facility were for Mecklenburg juveniles, he said those children would be sent to other facilities farther from home.

He proposed keeping the jail open for another year, giving the state time to add capacity statewide. That would allow Mecklenburg to shift some juvenile inmates to Cabarrus County.

And Lassiter proposed the county could transfer juvenile jail operations from the sheriff’s office to a different county department, as other counties have done.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the county budget — including the jail proposal — next month.

The sheriff’s office is responsible for staffing and running the county’s two detention centers.

Under Sheriff Garry McFadden, the county has struggled to adequately staff the facilities. The Fraternal Order of Police and the Department of Health and Human Services have said that staffing shortages have led to unsafe conditions at the main detention center.

McFadden said the problem is due to people leaving their jobs in all professions during the pandemic.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.