New beds at juvie = safer streets in Tri-Cities

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Action News learned the days of overcrowding at the juvenile justice center could finally be over.

It is the rule of thumb for accountability. Locking up teen criminals means safer streets and plenty of "reflection time" for kids on the wrong side of the law.

"They don't understand consequences because they haven't been held accountable," says jail supervisor Sharon Paradis "it takes time to change who they are."

"Time" that is about to get longer for many young convicts. Beginning in November, two dozen additional beds will be added to the Juvenile Justice Center covering both Benton and Franklin Counties. It'll allow more teens to fulfill their time behind bars. To say it's significant would be an understatement. As KEPR has told you many times before, overcrowding at the justice center forces many teens to be released early. Young convicts would serve only half their sentences for serious crimes like drugs, assault, and gang activity.

You can imagine what kind of message it's sending to teens. Basically it tells them no matter what they did, they'll be released early, so they can return to their old ways.

In addition to the new beds, Benton County Commissioners have also allowed the hiring of three new guards, bringing staffing at the justice center to the highest level in three years. Local gang counselors tell KEPR extra guards are critical to getting kids on the straight and narrow.

"They might want to cause trouble, but they know somebody is watching," says Josh Chapman, a local faith-based counselor.

Since 2010, more than 400 teens have had an early release from jail. The changes will ensure that each teen is held accountable, while still giving them the opportunity at a better life.