Newly opened center not jail for teens; focus is education

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2004

With the relocation of Juvenile Justice Probation offices into the Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility last week, the building on Marathon Road in Kenai is now completely filled with staff and programs and is open for business.

Also on Monday, the Kenai Peninsula School District began conducting its "Alternative to Out of School Suspension" program classes for students who are facing suspension, but are not in detention.

The facility, which began taking in young detainees in December, now has seven juveniles housed there.

"Everybody's in. All of our line staff has been hired," said Steve Kiefer, youth facility superintendent. However, three employee positions have not been filled, including a staff nurse, a maintenance person and a clerk, said Kiefer

The nurse position currently is advertised on the Workplace Alaska Web site and the other jobs soon will be.

Unlike an adult facility, KPYF is not a jail and does not have jail cells or guards.

"We like to call them secure rooms and what we have are youth counselors," Kiefer said.

"They teach, they counsel the kids and they provide security," he said.

Designed to house up to 10 detainees from 13 to 17 years old, the main focus of the youth facility is education.

While youth are there, they attend regular school classes Monday through Friday and receive additional education on a range of topics including HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, social skills, life skills, substance abuse, anger management, thinking errors, problem solving and vocation and career planning, according to Kiefer.

To get into a place like KPYF, he said youths commit a crime, violate probation or come by way of court orders in the case of problem runaways.

The youth facility, while not a jail where people are punished, also is not a long-term treatment facility for troubled youth.

"Treatment is dealing long term with issues such as abuse issues or substance abuse," Kiefer said.

"We offer general education in all those areas and assist juvenile offenders and their families to develop skills to prevent crime," he said.

Each youth's case must be reviewed every 30 days, according to Kim Smith, Kenai Peninsula district supervisor with the state Division of Juvenile Justice, so depending on each individual, the period of detention varies, but is not long term.

"The length of time they're there depends on the severity of the offense, the youth's history of past behavior and the suitability of the parents and the home environment," Smith said.

Smith, three probation officers and one social services associate moved into KPYF on Monday.

Although the facility is not a jail and the secure rooms are not cells, all the doors are locked and each secure room features a concrete slab for sleeping, a concrete platform for writing, a stainless steel stool affixed to the floor and a stainless steel commode and wash basin.

The facility also includes a nurse's office and examining room, a lunchroom that can serve as a multipurpose room, a kitchen, a game room and an outdoor exercise area.

A key feature of KPYF is a fully equipped classroom so juveniles, while being detained, can remain current with their education.

As the youth facility staff becomes fully trained and procedural bugs are worked out of the system, Kiefer said other programs may be brought in to help youth.

"We've been contacted by groups representing everything from therapeutic dogs for youth to Alateen and Alcoholics Anonymous," he said.

"The staff working here are very pleased with the physical plant and we appreciate the decision to put a juvenile facility on the peninsula," he said.

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