Probation officials took issue with some of the findings in a recent grand jury report on SLO County's multi-million dollar effort to expand space at its juvenile hall facility.
The county completed the $20 million expansion project in 2016, adding an extra 24,000 square feet of space and increasing the total number of beds at its juvenile hall from 45 to 65. However, the SLO County grand jury's May 2017 report raised concerns that the county built the facility bigger than it should have.
"When a facility has excess space, there is the potential for unnecessary cost," the report stated.
According to the grand jury's report, juvenile arrests and booking at the juvenile hall declined significantly since 2011, when planning for the expansion began. Data shows that the hall's average daily population decreased by 47 percent during that same time period. Meanwhile, juvenile arrests and criminal charges against youth in the county decreased by 38 and 64 percent respectively.
In the county's written response, SLO County's Probation Department pushed back on the grand jury's claims, stating that it partially disagreed with the group's findings.
According to probation's response, the extra beds help cover spikes in the facility's occupancy, which can increase the number of youth it needs to house beyond its average daily population. At times of peak occupancy, such as nights or when multiple youths are booked into the hall on the same day, 37 out of 50 beds, about 74 percent of the available beds, are being used, according to the probation department.
"So while the grand jury is correct that not all of the beds in the juvenile hall are being occupied, a significant portion of the extra capacity is being used at peak times," the response stated.
The department's response also noted that the expansion was built to meet the needs of the county over the next 30 years.
In the response to the grand jury report, the SLO County Board of Supervisors shot down several of the grand jury report's recommendations, including calls for a new needs analysis on the size and use of the juvenile hall, as well as a study to compare the hall's program costs to the cost of juvenile group homes. The board stated that such recommendations were not warranted. Δ