By: Sarah Snyder
ECTOR COUNTY - The number of kids in the Ector County Juvenile Detention Center is through the roof. And they aren't in there for small crimes either. There's so many, officials are trying to figure out what to do with all of them. In fact, they're having to be more selective in who they lock up.
Ector County officials say the numbers have never been this high. Over the past few months, the Juvenile Detention Center has seen a dramatic increase in fifteen to seventeen year-olds doing time. It's a problem that has authorities all over the county trying to find some answers.
"We're experiencing some bad stuff," Ector County Juvenile Detention Center Administrator James Jones, said.
The Ector County Center is built for about 40 inmates at a time, but lately it's been so crowded they've gone way over that number with some sleeping on couches.
"With the economy going down, that's what happens," Jones said. "You have an increase of drug use, you have an increase in burglaries, robberies, things like that. When people don't have money, they resort to other things."
Odessa Police say they're dealing with a growing number of teen burglary cases.
"They're leaving school and then going out and burglarizing and going back like it's no big deal," Cpl. Sherrie Carruth with the Odessa Police Department, said. "And that's why we were having those problems back in November, making our burglaries go up big time and it was these kids."
Now there's only room for felony cases.
"Where we would keep a posession of marijuana, which is a B or lower type of crime, we're having to let those kids go now instead of locking them up," Jones said.
Mary Marin serves as a shift leader. She says because they've got so many kids, her main focus right now is safety.
"The atmosphere can be really really heavy, but we can sense it and are more observant," she said. "These kids know what they need to do, but there are days when they have bad days too just like everybody else."
"I don't think there's ever an easy day," Jones explained. "We just have to be vigilant to take care of the kids. That's a tough deal."
The Detention Center is in the process of building a new gym that should be finished by this October. The officers say because they've had so many juvenile offenders coming in, that new gym will most likely turn into a big room full of cots.