New juvenile justice center open today | News
It's been several years in the making, and today, Macon-Bibb County's juvenile justice center is open.
"Judge [Quintress] Gilbert and I started talking about this in 1998 and it's taken this long to get it done," Chief Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Matthews said.
The new center is on Oglethorpe Street in Macon, right across the street from DFCAS, which often works with the juvenile department.
Matthews says he's long dreamt of a space dedicated to helping Macon-Bibb youth.
"We have broken families, we have places where children are not being taken care of appropriately, where they're being neglected or abused, we also have children who have obviously committed crimes," he said.
Local leaders say though juvenile crime isn't booming, it's on the rise.
"We're seeing some uptick in juvenile crime - theft, burglarly, auto theft, that kind of thing," said Sheriff David Davis.
They say to serve those kids better, the county needed to make a change.
"We just had very inadequate facilities," Matthews said. "We were in cramped quarters in the fifth floor of the courthouse."
But now, the new 25,000 square-foot juvenile justice center will feature larger courtrooms, holding cells and offices for the District Attorney and Sheriff's Office staff.
"This building is going to be a house of dreams," said Davis. "But more importantly, it's going to be a house of hope."
He says it will also be a place of prevention.
"The more children and the youthful offenders that are deterred here and put on the right path is less offenders that end up in the Law Enforcement Center in the Bibb County Jail as adults," he said.
District Attorney David Cooke says the juvenile justice center is often the final line of defense to help kids get back on track.
"This is our last chance," Cooke said. "The earlier we get involved the better. By the time they get here, it's vital we're able to work together because a lot of times the juncture here determines whether or not they'll go on to be an adult offender or get things back on track and move towards being a more productive citizen."
The center took about a year and a half to build and cost $7 million.
Construction of the center was funded by a 2011 SPLOST tax approved by voters.