Polk jail at center of debate over jailing juveniles

Published : Thursday, 13 Oct 2011, 9:10 PM EDT
BARTOW - A tug of war over housing young offenders has erupted in Polk County.
The ACLU, NAACP, and child advocates say they are united in their demand that Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd stop housing children as young as 10 years old in adult jails.
ACLU representative Julie Ebenstein explains why.
"Incarceration of juveniles should be the last resort, not the first step," she said.
Earlier this month, Polk County was the first in the state to detain juveniles awaiting trial in an adult facility.
Once controlled by the state's Juvenile Justice System, a new law now gives counties the authority over juvenile detention centers.
Sheriff Judd says giving counties the control is cost effective, saving taxpayers $1.4 million a year. He said young offenders and adult inmates would never mix or interact in the county facility. He also said Polk County's facilities are better than the state's.
But L.D. Wilcox with the NAACP scoffs at the idea that county control is cost effective.
"Quit thinking about the dollar. Education is the best investment we can make in our children," Wilcox said.
The ACLU argues children require special needs and care that an adult jail just doesn't provide.
"They're not small adults, they are children. They are not fully developed, first of all; and second of all, there is more hope for rehabilitation," Ebenstein said.
The ACLU believes there are safer alternatives for pre-trial kids, possibly sending them back home, under strict supervision.
"Some kids, like some adults, are very violent and very dangerous and have to be detained," Judd argues.

Judd accuses the ACLU of not having its facts straight. He says the facility is safe and secure, and he questions why the group is attacking him without once ever asking to visit the jail.
"Y'awl silly people," Judd said he would tell the ACLU. "You're uninformed, you don't want to be informed, you want to throw mud, you want to make somebody look bad and you don't even care enough about these kids to know they're in a better environment."

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