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Juvenile authorities Propose Jail Renovation to ease overcrowding

After 14 juvenile inmates fought with four guards at a Rhode Island juvenile detention facility, a state director proposed renovating a vacant building at the school to relieve overcrowding.

To cope with overcrowding, officials had put maximum-security juvenile inmates in a detention center designed to house inmates awaiting trial, says Paul Shulver, acting superintendent at the Training School.

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When an inmate refused to go to his room and punched a staff member earlier this month, a brawl erupted in the day room.

Plans to turn a vacant Training School building into house were shelved last year when the projected cost exceeded by $100,000 the $1.2 in bonds the voters had approved, Mr. Shulver says.

Now officials are proposing a less expensive renovation that would involve simply cleaning it and changing the locks. Shulver estimated the project could cost around $200,000.

"It's a high priority," says Jay Lindgren, director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families, which runs the Training School in Cranston. "We are talking about risk to staff and other kids, and safety is our ultimate [concern]."

Shulver said a growing population of inmates awaiting trial, ranging from the wrongly accused to murderers, forced him to switch housing with the maximum-security inmates last spring.

The maximum-security inmate population has been shrinking since the state began holding the most dangerous of the juveniles in the Adult Correctional Institutions two years ago.

The renovated building would be used to house the maximum-security inmates.

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"The staff there feels it is very urgent," Mr. Lindgren says. "If we can do it fairly economically, we're going to do it as quickly as we can," Lindgren said this month.

Shulver disagreed with officials of a Training School employees union, who said that the fight could have been avoided if the housing issue had been worked out.

"Any building is only as good as the staff that's in it," Shulver says.

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