Baldwin County Commission ready to stop managing juvenile offend - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Baldwin County Commission ready to stop managing juvenile offender facility

The Baldwin County Wilderness Facility Girls' Dorm in Lottie (Credit: Kati Weis, WALA FOX10 News) The Baldwin County Wilderness Facility Girls' Dorm in Lottie (Credit: Kati Weis, WALA FOX10 News)
BAY MINETTE, AL (WALA) -

The Baldwin County Commission is looking to no longer run its Residential Wilderness Facility for troubled teens in Lottie. 

In a work session Tuesday, March 8, commissioners agreed to work on determining the feasibility of leasing out the facility's property to a private company that would run a juvenile treatment program similar to the one currently operated by the county.

County Commissioners came to the agreement after a lengthy discussion about the camp's budgeting issues, and significant costs to the Baldwin County taxpayers. 

“Either we fund it or we get out now," said Commissioner Skip Gruber in Tuesday's meeting. “It’s going to cost this commission money, if we don’t want to spend that money, then we need to decide now."

Other Commissioners also chimed in on the conversation, explaining they felt the county should not be in the business of operating a facility like the Wilderness Camp. 

“This is not what county government ought to be doing,” said Commissioner Tucker Dorsey.

While the commissioners work on the correct language for a bid, the camp will downsize. 

The facility will soon only house 16 girls and 16 boys, who will all only be sent there from the Baldwin County Juvenile Court System. 

The camp will also eliminate 15 positions from its payroll. Because of position vacancies and turnover rates, only three people will be laid off as a result of that decision. Those three people were on probationary employment. 

The camp's director, Jennifer Lee, said the decision is "unfair."

"I think it's really unfair, I think it's an unfortunate situation, I think that it's an opportunity to push an agenda that isn't something that wants to be done by some commissioners," said Lee.

The Baldwin County Residential Wilderness Facility for troubled juveniles first started making headlines after a woman working at the camp was allegedly raped by a 15-year-old male camper in December 2015. 

A FOX10 News Investigation found another female staff member had been assaulted by three teen male campers a year earlier. According to the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office (BCSO), the boys threw a sheet over the woman's head and started hitting her. They attempted to steal her car, but authorities arrived on scene before the teens could get away. The boys were prosecuted in juvenile court, according to BCSO. 

Some commissioners feel strongly the camp has been an important investment for juveniles in Baldwin County, noting it has helped turned many kids' lives around. 

Juvenile Judges in both Mobile and Baldwin Counties have said the same. 

Regardless, when Mobile County was asked to pay for the portion of juvenile offenders it sends to the camp, it refused, explaining there were insufficient funds. 

Before, surrounding counties were able to send juvenile offenders via court orders to the camp as an alternative to a juvenile detention center free of charge. The Baldwin County taxpayer, and medicaid reimbursements, were paying for those campers. 

Because the camp costs $5 million a year to operate, county commissioners decided to ask other counties to pay for their portion of campers to offset Baldwin County costs. 

According to a Baldwin County Commissioner, both Mobile and Escambia County have declined to pay for their campers, meaning kids from those counties will no longer be allowed to attend the facility. 

The Baldwin County Commission Work Session Tuesday morning decided most of the Mobile and Escambia campers currently enrolled at the camp will be allowed to finish their sentence at the facility. 

However, there will be two boys from outside counties who are fairly new to the program who will be sent home likely by next week. 

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