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Plan unveiled for juvenile corrections

The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections would close in March 2011 under the Legislature’s plan to shift the cost of incarcerating juveniles to counties.

Gov. Jan Brewer would create a commission to determine the most efficient way to close the department and place its inmates under control of counties. The commission will submit recommendations to the governor by November.

The panel will be called the Commission on the Dissolution of the Department of Juvenile Corrections. Its members will include the director of the juvenile department, the director of the Arizona Department of Administration, the director of the Division for Children in the Governor’s Office for Children Youth and Families, and several others.

These and other details were outlined in a proposal agreed by the governor and Republican legislative leaders.

“I think the governor has a good plan,” Sen. Russell Pearce, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said. “This is the governor’s plan, and we are trying to make it work.”

Pearce said an arrangement is also possible for the counties to use the state’s existing juvenile correction facilities.

Shifting the cost of incarcerating juveniles is one of the sticking points in the budget discussions that have so far involved only Republicans.

Under the proposal, the Department of Juvenile Correction would be shut down on March 1, 2011. It will be up to counties to pay for juvenile corrections starting in fiscal 2012. To defray the counties’ costs, $20 million that the state would have sent to the cities as part of an urban revenue sharing agreement will instead go to the counties.

There are more than 400 juvenile inmates currently in the system. Additionally, there are nearly 500 juveniles on parole.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns warned its members about the budget provision in an e-mail on March 2. The League said lawmakers were considering taking $22 million from cities and towns to offset the expenses counties would incur by taking over the state’s responsibility of jailing juveniles.

According to an analysis prepared by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Phoenix would lose $6.7 million in fiscal 2011, Tucson would lose $2.4 million, and Mesa would lose $2 million.

In January, Brewer had proposed closing down the Department of Juvenile Corrections and transferring its inmates to county detention centers. John Arnold, the governor’s budget director, said doing so would save the state $63.3 million next year.

The state faces a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall in fiscal 2011, as well as a $700 million deficit in fiscal 2010.

Under S1006, one of 15 measures introduced in the special session, the juvenile corrections department would be eliminated on March 1 if the sales tax proposal is approved by the people or on January 1, if the sales tax proposal failed.

It would require the department, in consultation with the juvenile court of the committing county, to transfer all juveniles to that court also by March 1 next year if the sales tax proposal passed or by January 2011 if the ballot measure failed.

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