Youth detention centers set to close in Ramsey and Hennepin Counties

June 01, 2019 10:35 PM

By the end of summer, two youth correctional facilities will close in Ramsey and Hennepin counties.

Six teens remain at Boys Totem Town on St. Paul's East side.  When they finish their court-ordered programs, the center will close.

Three girls remain housed at the Hennepin County Home School for Girls off Highway 62 in Minnetonka. 

The shuttering of these so-called "juvie jails" is part of an evolving trend in Minnesota and nationwide to replace old, out-dated methods and buildings with community-based programs.  Laura LeBlanc is part of a criminal justice watchdog group, InEquality, and spoke on what she perceives to be issues with traditional juvenile facilities.

 "We've made it to easy to lock young people who've had the deepest history of trauma and pain and we've given them our worst answers,"LeBlanc said.

A study performed by Ramsey County revealed teens who are treated at home or similar setting are 30% less likely to be re-arrested.  Teens confined in a detention center had much higher recidivism rates.  Plus, a home setting costs less than the $250 a day it takes for youth detention. 

Arica Shetaka of North Minneapolis is a big believer in rehabilitation instead of incarceration.  She credits an intervention in her younger years for re-directing her to a law-abiding adult life. It was a life she planned to enjoy with her fiance, Derrick Rodgers, until a fury of gunfire ended his life and their future together in 2016. Shetak knew he served stints in juvie jail for committing non-violent offenses and after getting out had no desire to be locked up again.

 "He was on the right track turning his life around. We were one month away from moving and that happened,"  Shetaka said.

State records divulge over a 10 year period from 2007 to 2017, the number of minors charged with crimes and court-ordered to a youth facility, have dropped nearly 50%, from 3,000 to 1,500. 

The dwindling numbers, in addition to the movement for short-term alternative based programs that focus on accountability and justice, are motivators for the justice system's new approach to deal with youthful offenders, according to LeBlanc.

 "We need to redirect dollars spent on incarcerating them to investing in their lives and communities, LeBlanc said. "It's not just a decision it's  a process of figuring out what is most helpful."

Shetaka supports home-like settings with a blend of behavior & chemical abuse treatment, mental health services, counseling along with gender and culturally specific educational programs.

"That's the difference. They need the resources to learn. You can't just throw somebody in, slap their hand and say don't do this and then not explain how to fix it," Shetaka said."[That's] why it needs to be fixed and give them a different route to take so they can do better." 

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Beth McDonough

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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