Lake County shows off $7M overhaul of juvenile justice facility
BY CARRIE NAPOLEON Post-Tribune correspondent December 7, 2013 12:04AM
Visitors to the Lake County Juvenile Detention Complex Friday toured a wing of a newly renovated pod where inmates are kept. Each wing houses 24 juveniles in individual rooms on two levels. | Carrie Napoleon/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 8, 2014 6:13AM
CROWN POINT — Juvenile justice officials from four counties and the state were invited in Friday for a close look at the newly renovated Lake County Juvenile Justice Complex.
The approximately $7 million renovation involved the expansion of two of the four wings of the detention center and upgrades to both the learning and medical facilities. Behind-the-scenes work included a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a fire suppression system, new flooring and fresh paint.
“It brings the facility up to code,” said juvenile Judge Pro-Tem Thomas Webber Sr., who was appointed to oversee the Juvenile Division after Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura was tapped to head the Indiana Department of Child Services in January. The detention center was constructed in 1977 and was originally built on a swamp. Settling caused some of the problems with plumbing and drainage that were addressed.
Lake Criminal Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. has been named to permanently fill the position heading up the largest court system in the county. He will take over Dec. 20.
Stefaniak said the renovations improve conditions for youth detained there and will allow the facility to house juveniles from outside the county for a fee.
“The goal is to make this a regional facility,” Stefaniak said.
Officials are looking into the possibility of working with the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services which sometimes needs space to house juveniles awaiting deportation.
The facility can accommodate 108 male and female juveniles ages 8 to 18. On any given day, he said, about 50 youth are detained there. Stefaniak said the facility could house another 20 to 25 juveniles at the current staffing levels without having to hire additional employees.
Once processed into the facility, juvenile detainees attend school and participate in basic life skills classes to help them function better after they are released. They also receive any needed medical and psychiatric care.
Stefaniak also is bringing a therapy dog, a bull mastiff named Moxie, into the mix. Moxie is a 14-week-old pup that is undergoing therapy training. Stefaniak will be her handler. The dog was donated by a breeder in Ohio, and Alsip Home and Nursery has agreed to provide her food.
The impact the canine has on the youth was visible. Detainees quickly warmed up to Moxie, watching and petting her, as Stefaniak walked her through the facility on the tour. He described her first official visit to the Carmelite Home in Gary as a success.
Stefaniak said it has taken the efforts of many departments to get the facility to where it is now and returning juvenile court child support hearings to Gary, an agreement announced earlier this week.
“There has been a lot of intergovernmental cooperation here,” Stefaniak said.