By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Two years ago, a new administration building was constructed for Seward County, which left several of the offices in the county courthouse vacant.
At the same time, the county removed its community correction building, and officials with that office would move later into the courthouse.
Now, after being in separate locations for several years, offices for Cimarron Basin Community Corrections and the 26th Judicial District’s Juvenile Correction and Prevention Services are now in one place – the Seward County Courthouse – moving the JCAPS office from its old spot in an office building on West Pancake.
Mike Howell, who was serving as the director of community corrections at the time, was promoted to the position of director of JCAPS in March, while keeping his position at CBCC. Shortly after that, Howell met with county administrator Mary Bloomer, and he told her it would be ideal to have both offices under one roof.
“We looked at different places closer to the courthouse to see if there was anything available,” Howell said. “What was available was going to take a lot of money to remodel something like that.”
Ultimately, county commissioners decided in favor of the move, saying it would be better for both JCAPS and CBCC. Howell said the new locale also helps JCAPS Program Coordinator Tisha Duncan with court cases.
“She can run down there, and if it’s delayed, she can come back,” Howell said. “Over there, she has to drive clear back over and hope that a trains not on the track. It helps to have our intake officers here because they’re right here by the sheriff’s department. The PD can be able respond quicker.”
Duncan said likewise, the new office location helps when court authorities contact JCAPS about a sentencing.
“We’re right here,” she said. “It’s easier for the juveniles to either come down to us or we can go down to them instead of having to jump in a car. It’s a lot easier, more convenient for everybody with us being here.”
Howell said funding for community corrections has not allowed for a receptionist or administrative assistant for that program for nearly a decade, and having both JCAPS and CBCC helps with that, as well as utilizing resources such as phones, computers and servers.
“The old building was set up in such a way that there was a row of offices down the middle, so it created a natural division,” he said. “Everybody’s closer together now, so there’s a lot more interacting with staff and people feeling more like it’s a group instead of individual identities.”
Duncan said coming to the courthouse has allowed JCAPS to make use of community corrections programs.
“We have more access to their programs. Prior to Mike coming in, we had only had one program, and that was Thinking for a Change that I facilitated,” she said. “When we came in, we now have drugs and alcohol prevention. We have responsible thinking, anger management. We have a whole variety now we have access to, which is definitely needed for the juvenile side.”
Many critics of the move feared having CBCC and JCAPS in the same building would result in a mix of juvenile and adult inmates, but Howell said this is not the case.
“There hasn’t been that kind of mixture because of the way the schedule falls with the kids,” he said. “If they report, it’s usually after school. The majority of the adults are seen with two officers I have starting at 4:30 in the morning. They’re seeing a lot of people. We’re not running into that conflict of having adults and juveniles.”
Duncan, who moved into the courthouse in November, said the transition was tough at first because she was the only person from the JCAPS office in the courthouse at that time, but with the remainder of employees moved in around Dec. 10, she said it has been much better since then.
“We still have the hiccups of no phone line, no fax,” she said. “We’re having a hard time with that on the juvenile side, but I think it’s a lot easier because we’re all closer now. Being in one place just makes it so much easier. I love it. When I go to court and they’re running an hour or two behind, instead of me sitting in there, I can come back and work. I enjoy it much more. I think everybody else does.”
Howell said other locations were looked at such as a building at the corner of Third and Kansas.
“It was two stories,” he said. “It was a lot of space. There was 7,000 or 8,000 square feet, but it just wasn’t handicap accessible. We talked to the Oxy building, but they have something in their contract where they have a say so in who can rent it. That didn’t develop. John Smith has these over there. There’s two buildings there, but they’re separated.”
Howell said the location of the former Movie Gallery on Kansas Avenue was even considered.
“I think it’s owned by somebody in Arkansas, and they wanted to sell it,” he said. “There just really wasn’t anything here closer to the courthouse.”
Howell said after those locations were considered, officials with both JCAPS and CBCC decided on the courthouse. He added this may be a temporary solution, however.
“Eventually, they may decide they want to build a juvenile building with a shelter, but that’s on down the road,” he said. “For right now, this seems to work, and I think it’ll work real well.”
Howell estimated the JCAPS office had been in the office on West Pancake since about the mid-’90s.
“Originally, the juveniles were under community corrections up until 2000,” he said. “That’s when they split and formed the (Juvenile Justice Authority) with separate programs. When they split, the community corrections side moved out.”
Duncan said she believes the move to the courthouse is a positive one.
“I think it’s going to do us so much better,” she said. “I’ve noticed if the county attorneys need something, it’s so much easier to call, and I can be right there. It’s so much more convenient. I think it’s a good thing.”