Southeast Alabama Youth Services has raised their price for detaining juveniles, charging each county six dollars more per child each day, and some counties who use the facility are raising property taxes to pay for it.
Houston County is trying to figure out what to do about the unbudgeted expense. Eight counties send their juvenile offenders to SAYS, but the facility is more than half full of offenders from Houston County.
Still, Houston County commissioners say they're trying to find other ways to make up for the added expense. A property tax hike in Houston County is the last resort for a solution to the rising detention costs.
Instead, commissioners have been meeting with several agencies directly involved with the juvenile justice system to get to the root of the problem.
Dothan Police Department Sgt. Stacey Robinson says, "Right now we're a work-in-progress and we're looking at where can we spend the money most effectively. We don't want to be throwing more and more money at the problem. We want to get the most ‘bang for the buck’ and protect our children to the utmost."
Commissioners are currently studying other county systems and brainstorming ways to immediately make up for the price hike, but they're also looking ahead to the future and finding ways to fund preventative measures.
Law enforcement studies show that once a minor commits an offense, they need intervention. If there is no early intervention, they typically commit more serious offenses as they get older, which costs more money in the long run.
Houston County Commissioner Mark Culver says, "Our costs are getting very high. They're a strain on our general fund and we've just got to find areas that we can cut back on the cost."
Officials say several ideas have been brought forth, but there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered before any decision is made. The commission is planning to meet with the juvenile justice system agencies at least one more time before making any financial decisions.
No date has been set for the next meeting. In Alabama, a 16-year0old can be sentenced as an adult for a "class A" felony, and Dothan police say juveniles in the city commit more minor offenses than felonies.