LITTLE FALLS -- The summer should tell whether a major change in how the Central Minnesota Juvenile Center operates will be a method to keep the facility running.
The juvenile detention center's money woes continue as it operates with deficits. Consensus from commissioners, from the three area counties that support the facility, was to accept bills for operations. An estimated worst case scenario of another $250,000 is needed to keep the center open through 2005.
Central Minnesota Community Corrections, which operates the juvenile detention facility in Brainerd, is supported in part by three counties -- Aitkin, Crow Wing and Morrison.
Tuesday commissioners from all three counties met in a joint powers board in Little Falls to discuss the juvenile center's future. Michael Kafka, community corrections executive director, said the program's underfunding began when the juvenile center was formed.
Kafka suggested changes that would develop a larger-scale community corrections program using multiple service providers. The program could cover needs from secure detention to foster care and support for juveniles and families as children return home. Community corrections would manage the network of contracts. Kafka has been discussing a partnership with North Homes, which operates a nine-bed juvenile detention facility in Grand Rapids and has services for seriously emotionally disturbed juveniles.
Kafka's proposal would restructure the juvenile center here. The idea was met with support and skepticism.
Kafka suggested having options from secure detention to a residential group setting (which are more costly to counties) along with foster care, out-patient therapy and community treatment programs, psycho-educational programs and in-home placement as the juvenile returns home (all lower costs to the counties.) The idea is to have programming that can move a juvenile from secure detention back to a family setting.
"I am getting strong feelings this may be the direction we need to go," said Crow Wing County Commissioner Terry Sluss. Don Meyer, Morrison County commissioner, said to do nothing will cost more. Dale Lueck, Aitkin County commissioner, supported moving forward.
Kafka proposed continuing talks with North Home, which proposed a minimum contract of $752,089,80 for services. Kafka said he would talk to each county individually this summer. He proposed meeting with each county's staff -- judges, social services and probation officers -- about service needs. He suggested the new proposal could be in place in September.
A sticking point is whether the Central Minnesota Juvenile Center's programming meets the needs of decision makers who determine where juveniles are placed. Courts are looking for the least restrictive setting for individual juveniles.
Ed Larsen, Crow Wing County commissioner, agreed a system that led to more prevention than corrections was needed. But he said the facility continues to lose money and has not inspired confidence in its programming.
"I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered," said Susan Beck, Crow Wing County human services director. "The devil is in the details."
Sluss said if people who are placing juveniles are not going to buy into the program, the counties might as well get rid of the juvenile detention center.
Tim Houle, Morrison County administrator, said additional money for the juvenile center was a concern as the county has other departments to fund. Houle said costs should be compared with options. Houle said suggested future costs for the juvenile center in Brainerd are greater than transporting juveniles to a facility in Willmar.
Crow Wing County commissioners Dewey Tautges and John Ferrari and Roy Luukkonen, county auditor, also attended the meeting along with commissioners and staff members from Aitkin and Morrison counties.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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