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S. Korea officials visit juvenile justice center (video)

By Jessica Priest
July 10, 2013 at 2:10 a.m.
Updated July 11, 2013 at 2:11 a.m.

Heongu Lee, director of research and development at Ansan Juvenile Justice Center in South Korea takes notes and measurements in a cell at the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center in Victoria.

Did you know?

The 72-bed Victoria County Juvenile Justice Center opened in 1995. It contracts with some 50 Texas counties to accommodate girls and boys ages 10-18. They are accused of or convicted of at least a class B misdemeanor. Their stay can be anywhere from 10 days before their cases are resolved or up to six months after they've been sentenced by a judge.

It is one of the only facilities that accepts pregnant juveniles because it boasts personnel and equipment capable of monitoring fetal heartbeats and transporting the girls to and from doctors appointments.

SOURCE: Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center

South Korea is taking notes from the Lone Star State when it comes to criminal justice.

Top officials with the republic's Ministry of Justice whipped out their tape measures Wednesday while touring the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center at 97 Foster Field Drive.

The men - Heongu Lee, director of research and development, and See Kook Son, director of general affairs - studied the dimensions of the facility's single occupancy cells, which are somewhat of a novelty overseas.

Gigi Lee, a legislative liaison for state Sen. John Whitmire, acted as their translator.

In Korea, up to 10 inmates may be held in a multi-occupancy room, which has not been an issue until recently. Women are also separated from men at all times, and drug-related offenses are rare because the punishment is so severe. No Korean resident is allowed to carry a gun. Even police decline to, Gigi Lee said.

"Their culture is changing," she said. "They are going to build single cells."

The men, who are on a global tour to learn how other countries maintain their prison systems, already have secured funding for the project. They will construct a new facility on a campus that already holds seven others that range in age from 15 to more than 30 years old, Heongu Lee said through a translator.

Texas found smaller facilities to be more manageable. In a dorm-like setting, fights could break out, said Pama Hencerling, chief probation officer.

"Kids who are in here, they have behavioral problems in the first place. Otherwise, they would not be here," Hencerling said.

They also like claiming a space as their own.

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