By TIM HORAN

Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA -- The average daily number of Saline County juveniles in detention has dropped significantly since Judge Mary Thrower took over the juvenile docket in July, Sheriff Glen Kochanowski said.

Thrower said it's because she makes it a point not to send young offenders to the detention center for long periods of time, but instead tries to come up with the best option for the offender.

Lt. Sean Kochanowski, of the Saline County Sheriff's Office, said the number of Saline County juveniles at North Central Kansas Regional Detention Center in Junction City is at a seven-year low. On Tuesday, there were only three Saline County juveniles at the facility, while in the past there have been as many as 20.

"This month (the number) has been really, really low," Sean Kochanowski said. "We are averaging just under four at this point, which is the lowest it's been since I've been here -- in seven years."

On May 28, 2013, commissioners agreed to pay a one-time membership fee of $10,000 and nearly $405,000 a year to house Saline County juveniles at the Junction City facility. This year, the cost was $397,484 for the year.

Sean Kochanowski said Saline County has contracted for 4,800 bed days for 2014. Through October, 2,911 bed days have been utilized. He said about 300 bed days were used in November.

"We're not going to come anywhere close to that maximum number," he said.

In November, the daily average of Saline County juveniles in the North Central Kansas Regional Juvenile Detention Facility was 5.6. That was down from 25 in May and 20 in March. The facility has 28 beds.

Thrower said that keeping juveniles locked up for a month isn't the answer.

"Detention is no longer going to be a threat to him," she said. "So I have lost a tool out of my tool belt to work with that kid. If I keep a kid in detention for three or four days and then release him, then he doesn't become complacent to it and it still becomes a tool for me to say, 'If you don't go to school, you are in violation of your probation; you can go back to detention.'"

Thrower said the juvenile code is different from the adult criminal code. Juvenile code tells judges to make all reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the offender.

Parents and probation officers also have to be accountable, she said.

"I can't just let a parent say, 'I'm done dealing with this kid. Let them sit for a month and a half in detention. I don't care.' I just can't let a probation officer say, 'I don't know what to do with this kid,' My response to that is, 'Well we need to figure out a plan to meet that requirement of making reasonable efforts,' " Thrower said.

Thrower said there have been multiple studies over the past 15 years that show that keeping a juvenile offender in detention loses any benefit after a few days. The threat of detention keeps the juveniles doing what they need to do -- complying with their probation orders and parents' rules.

Commission Chairman Randy Duncan, who was a board member of the juvenile facility, which serves 15 counties, said other counties have had lower numbers than Saline County in the past.

"Suddenly we dropped. I'm not sure why," he said. "That's been a joke. Since our juvenile center dropped so low, we would hope it would drop like that at the jail. If that would happen at the jail, we wouldn't need a new jail. We'll see what happens."

But jail numbers haven't dropped.

Sheriff Kochanowski said that on Dec. 23 there were 223 inmates, 163 in the county jail and 60 housed in other county jails in the area.

The county has been studying the jail population for several years. A half-cent sales tax to fund a 344-bed jail and justice complex was rejected in the Nov. 4 election.