A secure detention center for delinquent youth is facing a serious funding challenge, but the financial shortfall may be a sign of a greater success.
The Central Minnesota Juvenile Center, located on the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center campus in Brainerd, has 40 beds. Now the vast majority are empty with just three to four youth present at any given time, the Crow Wing County Board learned Tuesday. Twenty, a more consistent number two years ago, are needed in order for the center to break even financially. Officials note the success of community-based programs along with a drop in serious crime, in part, are reasons for the decline.
Central Minnesota Juvenile Center
Is a secure juvenile detention facility on the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center grounds.
Serves delinquent boys and girls age 12 to 18.
Offers detention and short- and long-term corrections programming, transition services and outpatient chemical dependency treatment.
Central Minnesota Community Corrections, supported in part by Crow Wing, Morrison and Aitkin counties, provides adult and juvenile probation services and operates the juvenile detention facility. The center leases space from a Crow Wing County-owned building and has a 16-bed secure detention wing and a 24-bed corrections programming wing. With the decline in usage, staff cuts were made and one wing closed down. All the youth are kept on the detention wing.
Bob Tepfer, Central Minnesota Community Corrections director, told commissioners several factors have contributed to the decline in use at the center.
Tepfer said serious crime is down. Probation caseloads for 2003 decreased 13 percent.
"We must be doing something right," Tepfer said, noting children are sent to the facility as a last resort. But Tepfer said he firmly believes the facility is needed.
A philosophical change in corrections has counties seeking the least restrictive programs for juveniles along with a goal of keeping youth closer to home. And counties are facing pressure to keep out-of-home placement costs down. Tepfer said the corrections programming also is an issue. Youth are going to Thistledew, a wilderness-based program north of Grand Rapids noted for a successful program. And youth sex offenders are going to the Mille Lacs Academy in Onamia, which has specific programs.
Susan Beck, Crow Wing County human services director, said therapeutic foster homes are being used along with other foster homes instead of secure facilities.
Central Minnesota Community Corrections has operated a secure detention center for youth since 1991. Following a history of a shortage of beds, a new larger juvenile detention center began operating in 2000. Then state grants aimed at helping counties meet the youth detention need swung the pendulum in the opposite direction, creating a glut of beds.
Commissioner Ed Larsen said he was not sure there was justification to have a secure facility that is not used. An option for the county is to use contract services and send juveniles to other facilities farther away. Commissioner John Ferrari said shipping youth out also is costly to the county.
"What is going to happen to these people when they get to be adults?" Ferrari said, referring to the new jail the county is building. "This jail is going to have to be a heck of a lot bigger."
Commissioners questioned where the problem was -- programming or in licensing.
"If decline in enrollment is (because) we have found things that worked better I'm in favor of decline," Larsen said. "If that's the reason, that's one thing. ...That's what I need to know as a board member is which scenario is true. If that's the case I'm going to have a celebration."
Beck echoed those sentiments. She said community-based services are in place and are working and the other programs at Thistledew and Onamia are used on a regular basis with a goal of shorter term stays and greater success allowing children to be reintegrated with their families.
Commissioner Gary Walters asked why the juvenile center was not looking at the same type of program. Beck said Thistledew is more of an outward bound program. Tepfer said the facility here is more of a juvenile jail.
A joint powers meeting with all three counties is planned in June to further discuss the issue.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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