Reports of overcrowding in juvenile jail prompts judge to make changes

NEWSCENTER 23
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POSTED: Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 5:10pm

UPDATED: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 9:46am

It's no surprise that crime is a growing problem across the Rio Grande Valley.  But what came as unsettling information was local media reports exposing the issue of overcrowding at the juvenile detention center.

The Judge Mario E. Ramirez Jr. Juvenile Justice Center has 96 beds, but was recently detaining more than one hundred juveniles at a time.

Judge Jesse Contreras doesn't deny this issue happened and says that he realized it needed to be fixed.

"It was a wake up call," Contreras said.  "'Hey guys we do have a problem, let's get with it and let's fix it.'  And we've done so.  For the past three, two and a half weeks now, we maintained at the mid 60s and lower 60s.  And so we maintained for the past three weeks way below the capacity level."

Judge Contreras adds that while the number of juvenile detainees is currently below capacity, he refuses to let the amount of beds available be a factor in deciding whether or not to release a dangerous child.

"I am not gonna send a violent child out there to commit another horrific crime just for the sake of accommodating the sleeping arrangements here in this county.  I am not gonna compromise the safety of the citizens."

Judge Contreras is expecting close to 3,000 reported juvenile cases for this year, a significant increase from two years ago when just under 1200 cases were reported.  With the numbers constantly rising, the judge hopes that by tackling issues at the juvenile level, he can help these kids avoid a future of criminal activity.

"What we're trying to focus here is to rehabilitate these kids that are increasing in numbers, they're committing crimes, so that we can rehabilitate them now or pay later as an adult."

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