By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

The completion of a large, new juvenile hall in Del Norte County, set for the end of the month, will put an end to the practice of sending an overflow of juvenile offenders back home, according to County Supervisor Martha McClure.

If the old hall filled up, the judge would say: Im releasing you to your parents to put another child in, McClure said.

The old facility is a one-room thing with eight cells, McClure said, and holds only 16 people double-bunked.

Often, the more serious offenders would be shipped to the California Youth Authority facility in Sacramento. The CYA is basically a prison system for juveniles. Now, that wont be necessary.

Del Norte Countys new juvenile hall is a state-of-the-art complex with classrooms, counselors and rehabilitation programs that can hold 44 young people. It is located on land just east of the old hall on Williams Street.

By keeping these children in the community, we can have counseling sessions with moms and dads, and keep some continuity in their life, McClure said. Continuity and community-based care is the best way to ensure a childs rehabilitation, she added.

Costing more than $5 million, the new hall, which will open March 1, has the security of Fort Knox and is operated by computers centralized in a control room, according to the countys Chief Probation Officer Robert Bo Seymour.

At each of the four entrances are rooms where the doors to the outside and the doors to the inside can be locked as juveniles or supplies are unloaded for processing.

From there, the juvenile is taken to an interview room or a holding cell before moving along to a showering facility.

Each juvenile is required to shower before admission. There, they trade in their street clothes for a jumper and counselors check the young person for bruises or other signs of abuse, according to Seymour.

Three different cell housing units are visible from the central control room. Low-security inmates will be housed in one of those units, more serious offenders in another. The third unit will be for children nearing release. Programs are offered there to help them in the transition to independent life.

These (cells) are really about sleeping. During the day, theyre in class and counseling and other programs, Seymour said.

Theyre kids. You work with them, you dont just throw them in here and forget about it, he added.

A gymnasium, a fully functioning kitchen and a medical office help make the new hall self-sufficient.

A juvenile hall is alive from the time you turn it on. Its like a living organism, Seymour said.

The old hall, built in 1958, is very small and its condition has been described by many as like a Tijuana jail.

What we had was absolutely unacceptable, McClure said.

We took every assembly member, senator and official we could get our hands on and took them through that old facility, McClure said.

And with the help of then Senator Mike Thompson (now a Congressman), McClure was able to secure a $4.7 million grant for Del Norte County to build the new hall.

I hope the county probation officer and the county schools will make sure every kid gets a look- see at that puppy, she added.