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County's new jail draws interest as a juvenile hall

The old jail won't do, but its younger brother just might.

So say officials with the new Department of Juvenile Justice, who have considered both Citrus County detention facilities as possible places to incarcerate violent young criminals.

The old jail, the 77-bed brick structure off Courthouse Square downtown, didn't have enough open spaces to meet the department's design plans. And it wouldn't be worth retrofitting.

"It wouldn't be a good use of money to revamp that to meet our needs," department spokesman John Joyce said. The state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services _ then in charge of juvenile justice _ reached the same conclusion last year after it reviewed the jail.

But the new jail, a $10-million structure in Lecanto that is half empty, is another story. Juvenile officials say it might work as a Level 10 facility _ the kind of lockup where the state can put away "the worst of the worst."

Only two of the jail's four pods currently are by with local and federal prisoners. That leaves two pods, or 200 beds, that the Department of Juvenile Justice might be able to use for its purposes _ provided Citrus County could meet specifications that require juveniles to be kept separate from the adult population.

The Legislature has ordered the department to start using Level 10 facilities Jan. 1, so officials are eagerly searching. They need to find 300 beds statewide.

Can Sheriff Charles Dean and department officials negotiate a price?

"We are in the early stages of negotiation," sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said.

Said Joyce: "We're talking with the sheriff. We're optimistic that something can be worked out."

As for the old jail, officials may go back to another proposed plan: using the building to house old Clerk of the Circuit Court files.

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