For 15 years, a regional offshoot of Pima County's juvenile-corrections program has operated in quiet, yet effective anonymity on the northwest side.
Juvenile-crime levels today aren't nearly as high as they were in the late 1990s, when eastside and northwest-side satellite offices were opened to alleviate congestion at the county's juvenile facility on Ajo Way. But county officials say there is still a need for probation officers, surveillance officers and other staff dedicated to points north of Grant Road and west of First Avenue.
They also needed a better place to conduct business, after the Northwest Community Justice Center became cramped and run-down.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors in May approved a five-year lease for an 11,300-square-foot, two-story building at 4955 N. Shamrock Place, at the end of a cul-de-sac off Ruthrauff Road, just east of La Cholla Boulevard.
The office opened Aug. 14. About 30 county employees work there, and the building provides ample space for meetings with northwest-side families whose children have run afoul of the law.
"We were forced to move, because the old building was deteriorating," said Dodie Ledbetter, the county's deputy juvenile court administrator, about the justice center's former location on Highway Drive, hugging Interstate 10 and the train tracks. "The floor was becoming uneven. I don't know if sinking is the right word, but you could tell when you walked through there that it was wobbling. It wasn't new when we moved in, in 1997, and it was getting to the point of becoming unsafe."
Steve Marrone, the probation supervisor for the Oro Valley area, said the layout of the new building "is much more conducive than the other one was. It was designed with our function in mind so that it flows better. And we're right in the middle of the action, in the (857)05 ZIP code."
The new building has enough room for a satellite courtroom, something juvenile-corrections officials have wanted on the northwest side for some time.
"Part of the reason we did move ... was that it was better-situated to have court," said Marrone, who has worked in juvenile corrections for 30 years.
The new Northwest Community Justice Center will soon provide space for family drug-court personnel, Ledbetter said. However, the date when a roughly 1,300-square-foot room off the main lobby will become a courtroom hasn't been determined, she said.
"What is the likelihood? I can't answer that," Ledbetter said. "In 1997, when we opened the (first) building, the plan was to put a courtroom in there. It has always been a desire, but it's been a while since we looked at the data. It would all have to be looked at again."
Ledbetter said an analysis needs to be done to determine the percentage of the juvenile-court caseload that comes from the northwest side. Ledbetter and Marrone said the northwest office currently handles about 400 active cases.
"It all depends on what data we can come up with," Ledbetter said of opening a satellite court.
In 2011, the county had 10,293 juvenile referrals, with 6,166 juveniles ultimately referred to court. Those numbers are down about a third from 2007, when nearly 15,000 referrals led to more than 9,000 juveniles heading to court.
The county juvenile-court system also handles dependency cases, such as adoptions, severances and emancipations. That part of the department handled an average of 950 cases per year between 2005 and 2011.
Ledbetter said she also hopes to get the opinions of those who would have the most to gain from a northwest-side courtroom—the families.
"It helps to talk to the families to find out what would be beneficial for them," Ledbetter said. "It would be so much easier for our families to get to court if it were closer to them—closer to their work sites, closer to their homes."