The Ketchikan Regional Youth Facility, a detention center for juvenile offenders, will close Sept. 15.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced Monday that the closure will mean the loss of 15 jobs, and that Ketchikan-area youth who require detention now will be sent to Juneau.
Ketchikan’s youth facility was built in 2002, and was strongly endorsed by local officials as a way to keep youthful offenders closer to their families. It was built to hold up to 10 juveniles.
Rob Wood, director of the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice, said the Ketchikan facility has been underutilized in recent years, with an average of four youth housed there at a time.
“We actually started looking at the possibility of reprogramming the facility about four years ago, just on the possibility that we could find a way to make the utilization better and fill a need,” he said.
That didn’t work out, though, and Wood said the facility costs about $2 million a year to operate. That’s because it has to be ready for full capacity, even when it’s at less than half most of the time.
“That was an expense that as the state budget became more fragile over the last year, year and a half – since we couldn’t find a better use or a more complete use for the facility – we had to look at a decision to close,” he said.
Wood said delinquency rates are down across the country, including Alaska. When that happens, smaller facilities like Ketchikan’s are vulnerable to closure.
He said lower delinquency rates are a good thing, though.
“I keep telling people that the division is not in the business to be self-sustaining,” he said. “The division is in the business of doing good things for families and for the state. If we have less work to do, that is kind of a good thing, even though it’s a scary thing.”
The youth in the facility, their families, local officials and staff were told about the closure last week. As of Monday, Wood said there are six youth in the Ketchikan facility, although at least one is expected to leave this week.
Fifteen full-time employees received lay-off notices, and one facility position will be reassigned to Ketchikan’s juvenile probation office.
Wood said the division will provide assistance to the laid-off staff as they look for new jobs. He said the staff was kept informed of the potential closure throughout the decision-making process.
“One of the things I’m just so proud of with them is that, despite the uncertainty with their jobs for a little while, they’ve continued to do great work with kids,” he said. “They’ve continued to support each other. It’s truly hard to say goodbye to any of them.”
The Ketchikan Regional Youth Facility was built on City of Ketchikan-owned property. Wood said that under the terms of the lease agreement, the property reverts back to the city when the state vacates the facility.
Wood said the state has looked at other small youth facilities in Alaska to determine their feasibility, and whether they could be privatized to save the state money. So far, Ketchikan’s is the only one slated for closure.