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Like many kids, sometimes Levi Hughes just didn't get along with his mom.

The single mother raising six children did all she could to keep her family together and happy.

But twice, verbal fights got heated enough that she called the police for help.

Hughes committed no crime, but he ended up at a youth receiving center both times — and couldn't be more grateful.

"The help and counseling led me to the career path I'm on today," said Hughes, a Unified Police Department detective. "My life improved because of some of the counseling. It's a shake-up to a kid, being taken from your family. It's not designed to be a punishment, but a safe place and time-out to find solutions."

But such an option may not exist in a few months.

Lawmakers on Tuesday looked at closing the youth receiving centers, saving about $4.5 million per year and eliminating about 60 full-time positions to help balance Utah's budget.

"They would be taking away a service that's proven itself worthy," Hughes said. "Closing those would be a grave mistake."

The dozen centers sprinkled across the state receive about 6,000 children per year. Officers can drop off unruly youths or those who commit minor or nonchargeable crimes and get back to patrolling within 20 minutes. For the children, the centers provide a place to go after a family fight to cool down and assess their home situation and needs, including free treatment for substance abuse or mental health.

The centers, funded by the Division of Juvenile Justice Services, would be sacrificed to maintain youth drug- and sex-offender treatment programs in the division's detention centers.

Hughes said canceling such a service would be a "terrible blow" to local law enforcement agencies.

But lawmakers say they have to cut budgets somewhere — and all have consequences.

"Part of our mandate is to look after these children, not provide a convenience to law enforcement agencies," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Budget Committee.

He says the centers are a good way for the state to partner with local agencies, but in a year of tough budget decisions, they may not be feasible. The committee is also looking at closing at least one secure juvenile detention center — where children complete court-ordered sentences — because the detention centers are at about 58 percent of capacity due to a recent drop in the juvenile crime rate.

It's a difficult situation for division leaders to face, though they realize hard decisions must be made.

"[Youth receiving centers] are a terrific service, but now the public policy discussion of 'maybe the state ought to do it and maybe they shouldn't' happens," said Dan Maldonado, the division's executive director. "Our core mission is to the kids who are in custody." —

Locations of youthreceiving centers



Cedar City







Salt Lake City


St. George