Easley wants build 3 juvenile prisons

Gov. Mike Easley announced a plan Tuesday to build three juvenile prisons at a cost of $90 million in the wake of an audit last week that said the state must replace dangerously decrepit buildings or possibly face a costly lawsuit.

Easley’s plan would replace three facilities in Lenoir, Buncombe and Cabarrus counties with prisons that would be built by early 2007. Private contractors would build the three prisons. The state would borrow the money to pay for them.

The plan is subject to approval by the General Assembly.

Easley said in a news release that high-quality centers were critical to helping "our children turn their lives around so that they can become productive citizens."

The audit released last week was prompted by allegations from three youths that a staff member repeatedly molested them at Swannanoa Valley youth development center near Black Mountain.

Officials with the governor’s office and the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which oversees the prisons, said the new plan is not the result of the audit but of weeks of work with the governor’s office to improve what are called "youth development centers."

"This is a major step in the right direction for the state,” George Sweat, the juvenile justice secretary, said in a written statement. "These facilities will help us tremendously. They will be designed for the population we have, and the end result will be that these youth have an even greater chance of succeeding."

The state’s five juvenile prisons NC, four for boys and one for girls, house 576 youths ranging in age from 10 to 21. Youths are sent there either for committing felonies or more than five misdemeanors. All five centers are more than 30 years old.

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