Jail photo

The inside of the Clinton County Law Center is pictured in this Clinton Herald file photo. Clinton County officials are dealing with budget woes under new legislation that prevents them from housing juveniles in an adult facility.

CLINTON — A change in federal law affecting how juvenile defendants can be jailed, a state-imposed limit on the number of beds available in Iowa and escalating costs to house offenders when a bed is found have combined to cause chaos for Clinton County’s budget.

The Board of Supervisors budgeted $30,000 for juvenile offender housing for the fiscal year that began July 1. So far the county has spent that $30,000, recently approved a budget amendment for $35,000 and on Monday decided to direct another $150,000 to that line item so they can cover costs until May. A public hearing for that budget amendment is expected to be Dec. 19.

”This is a massive burden and something that we weren’t prepared for,” Clinton County Sheriff Bill Greenwalt said Monday when discussing costs and securing bed space.

Clinton County leaders for the past month have been discussing how the federal law, approved in 2018 and enacted by the state legislature in 2019 for enforcement in 2021, is affecting the county budget and causing the county attorney’s office to spend hours trying to find housing for juveniles accused of a crime.

Juveniles must be housed according to strict guidelines, and cannot be placed in a facility intended for adults, meaning they are not to be housed in the Clinton County Jail. The jail was built prior to the new law’s creation: Clinton County voters approved the Clinton County Law Center’s construction by passing a $22 million bond referendum in May 2016. Construction was complete in 2019.

Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf told the Clinton County Board of Supervisors on Monday that three juveniles charged in Clinton County are currently being housed out of county – two of them in Linn County and another in Sioux City.

Wolf spent six hours last week attempting to find a place to house the juvenile who ultimately was sent to Sioux City. The combined cost of housing those three is $600 dollars a day, with that cost to remain in place for at least two months. That cost is on top of the transportation costs and overtime costs for two deputies to transport a juvenile to a center and back again either for court hearings or a possible disciplinary discharge from a facility.

As the Supervisors hike the budget allocation to cover costs, they are working alongside a special committee that includes Greenwalt, Wolf, and others to find solutions until the under-construction Scott County youth corrections facility is open in mid-2024. The hope is that Clinton County will have a partnership with Scott County to house Clinton County juveniles there.

Supervisor Dan Srp has sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office to make federal officials aware of Iowa’s juvenile offender housing problems and Supervisor Jim Irwin has contacted U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s office.

Irwin also is reaching out to Linn County to get more details about a possible partnership with that facility, which has said it would reserve one or up to two beds for Clinton County juveniles. He is hoping to contract with Linn County for a couple months.

Another option that already has been tried by the county was a partnership with the Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Center in Eldora. While it costs $200 a day to house a juvenile there, that cost can quickly escalate to $600 a day based on behavior. Juveniles deemed to be too difficult to deal with are discharged from the facility, leaving the county attorney’s office to scramble to find a juvenile detention bed.

County officials on Monday also discussed how the problem is statewide, saying a maximum of 272 juvenile beds are allowed under state law and that Linn County actually shut down one of its wings to allow Scott County’s new center to have more beds.

Greenwalt said that as the county increases its budget to cover the costs, he also wants to take a look at the option of sending juveniles into Illinois’ detention centers.

”It isn’t ideal,” Wolf said of the Illinois facilities, saying that state’s facilities are jails while those set up in Iowa provide programs and services to juveniles. Srp also was cautious about that option.

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