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Finances, changing needs doom area youth facility


James Greek, sent to the Maumee Youth Center in Henry County two weeks ago, says, `You could say I'm here to shut the place down.' The medium-security center will close in August.

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LIBERTY CENTER - The last inmate will leave the Maumee Youth Center in August.

As he walks out the door, the life of the juvenile detention center near this village will end.

Ohio's only fenceless, medium-security juvenile center will be closed for good, despite protests from some officials who are concerned with losing a facility that has been successful in educating and rehabilitating young offenders.

At least some of the teenagers who might have been sentenced to the camp-style facility instead could be incarcerated at fenced, jail-like centers.

“I hope not,” Paul Cole said. “Those young men don't belong with hard-core criminals. They are impetuous young men that we can work with. We can do something with them, to turn their lives around.”

Mr. Cole is a technician and mission support employee of the Ohio Air National Guard at Toledo Express Airport. Each day, he sees and talks with inmates from the Maumee Youth Center, who are taken to the Air Guard post to work.

It is one activity offered to inmates. Many are first offenders and most have drug-related problems.

“We can really see differences in them after they've been at the Maumee facility,” Mr. Cole said. “Some of those boys come back out here to say good-bye to us.”

Although no official announcement has been made, it is a foregone conclusion that the state will close the center, officially known as the Maumee Juvenile Correctional Facility.

The number of inmates has been gradually reduced. Longtime Superintendent Nan Hoff has been transferred to another center.

Two weeks ago, the Ohio Department of Youth Services sent James Greek to direct the final months of the Maumee Youth Center.

“I'm here to run the place as it gets close to phasing out,” Mr. Greek said. “You could say I'm here to shut the place down.”

The state's Department of Youth Services has said it will close the facility because of severe budget constraints and because the state's other centers are more in tune with today's needs for youth detention.

“We don't have an option,” said Kevin Miller, a youth services spokesman. “The budget is critical. We're going to be $9 million in the hole. Closing Maumee is the path we have to take.”

Governor Taft's two-year, $45 billion budget recommended a 0.8 percent increase for youth services and 4.1 percent the following year.

“We're going to be quite short of money,” Mr. Miller said. “Nothing like this is easy but it really has to be done to bring ourselves in line with the budget.”

But state Rep. Jack Ford (D., Toledo), a former drug and alcohol counselor, says he was told by Governor Taft that budget concerns are not the reason for the center's closing.

“I met with Governor Taft and asked him to save the center and he told me it wasn't an issue of money but that (youth services) Director Geno Natalucci-Persichetti just didn't want it anymore because he felt it didn't fit with the new criminal justice approach to youth rehabilitation,” Mr. Ford said.

The center, with no outer walls or fences, sprawls like a campus on 20 acres in the Maumee State Forest. It offers drug rehabilitation, high school classes, counseling, and outside work opportunities to young offenders sent there. It is considered by some a model institution.

At capacity, it housed 120 inmates, most convicted of such offenses as vandalism, theft, or burglary. It employed 160 workers.

Shutting down the Maumee Youth Center has been difficult for many to accept.

In February, some employees delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures to Governor Taft. It urged him to keep the facility, one of only two such drug treatment centers in Ohio, open. By then, one dormitory had been closed.

Mr. Ford said closing the facility “makes no sense.''

Alcohol or drug abuse is a factor in 75 percent of Ohio's youth services incarcerations and there are few beds in places that can treat young substance-abusing offenders, he said.

Mr. Ford said he recommended to Mr. Taft that, if the state moves out of the Henry County center, it could be given to the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

“It is the height of folly for the state to close down one of only two such agencies in the whole state that provide specific long-term drug abuse treatment and that has a milieu for such treatment,” said Mr. Ford, who was a founder and director of Substance Abuse Services, Inc.

“It would be smarter to transfer it to [Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services] and keep it funded. Kids who are not serious criminals but who have experimented heavily with drugs and alcohol would have a place to go for help.”

But the changing face of juvenile incarceration has made the Henry County facility outdated. That's what Mr. Natalucci-Persichetti told a House subcommittee. He said low-risk juveniles can be handled in community programs and more high-risk felons could have been sent to the Maumee Youth Center if it remained open.

The director told lawmakers of the possibility of expanding substance abuse treatment programs at other facilities. The Mohican Youth Center near Loudonville is the only other medium-security facility that has substance-abuse programs for male felons.

Boys who might have been sent to Maumee will go to one of the state's eight other youth detention centers.

The Department of Youth Services is overcrowded by about 20 percent. New laws could mean some violent juvenile offenders receive longer sentences.

The new maximum-security institution at Marion has 200 beds. A new facility in southern Ohio will have 120 beds.

Court officials point out that nonviolent, low-risk offenders like those housed at the Maumee Youth Center often are not sent to Department of Youth Services facilities. Instead, they may be dealt with in the Reclaim Ohio program, which gives funds to counties to provide alternative placement within a community.

Judge James Ray of the Lucas County Juvenile Court said he understands the concerns over closing the Maumee Youth Center.

“But it seems like a prudent fiscal decision in the face of financial shortfall,” he said.

The Toledo administrative judge said that young offenders probably can be absorbed into other institutions. But he acknowledged that those needing substance-abuse treatment will not find the same rehabilitation services they get at Maumee.

“We find those kinds of delinquents are better served living at home and getting community services,” Judge Ray said. “In terms of Lucas County, closing Maumee will not have great impact. We had only one kid there when the closing was first announced.”

Mr. Ford has questioned whether Reclaim Ohio or other local programs can handle all cases, and, if not, whether low-risk offenders needing substance-abuse rehabilitation will be caught in “a pell-mell rush to punishment as opposed to treatment.”

In March, Mr. Ford told an Ohio House subcommittee that youths at the Maumee Youth Center needing drug and alcohol treatment can be worked with 24 hours a day, for months, and be turned around.

At the same hearing, Terry Stiger, a Maumee Youth Center training officer, told the subcommittee, “Fifty-nine of our population got their GED last year. You won't find that number at other institutions.”

Mr. Miller said the Department of Youth Services has no alternative but to close a center to shave costs.

“We need $3.5 million more in 2002 and another $4 million in 2004, just to meet contractual pay raises,'' he said. “Add $2 million in mandated step increases in pay, and increased food and medical costs, and that makes more than $9 million that we know we're short.”

The Maumee Youth Center's annual budget is $9 million, he said.

Defiance County Juvenile Judge Steve Ruhl thinks the closing will not have much impact on his court. “Only about 10 percent of kids I commit to DYS ever go to Maumee because most of mine are violent or flight risks,” he said. “I would be highly upset if a maximum-security place was closing. Of all the state's facilities, that (Maumee) probably is the one to go.”

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