Following protests by scores of opponents to a new juvenile facility for teenage criminal offenders in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, leaders in both counties decided Wednesday to stop discussions about building a joint facility.
A committee with members from both county boards unanimously agreed to “move away” from future joint building discussions, and focus instead on the two counties collaborating on youth programming at their own facilities.
The counties had discussed the joint facility idea for two years.
“After receiving a bunch of feedback ... no one thinks we should build a large facility,” said Mark Thompson, Hennepin County’s assistant county administrator for public safety. “Programming is the most important thing we can share.”
The decision follows a vocal meeting a week ago in Richfield, where about 100 people disrupted the fourth of seven community input meetings, interrupting county leaders with yelling and chanting against a joint facility. Last month, a group of advocates presented the Ramsey County Board with 1,000 postcards signed by people opposing a joint facility.
Activists who have referred to the counties’ residential treatment centers as “super juvenile prisons” or “youth prisons” called Wednesday’s decision a victory.
While the counties had not reached any decision on a new facility, where it would be located or whether it would be only one building, Thompson said Wednesday that the counties now will shift to discussing shared programs.
That doesn’t mean that the counties’ two facilities will close. The Hennepin County Home School in Minnetonka and Ramsey County’s Boys Totem Town in St. Paul are nonsecure facilities that have long provided therapy and behavioral treatment to juveniles who have committed felonies. Both state-licensed facilities have aging infrastructure and have seen demand for their services decline as more juvenile offenders have been shifted to in-home treatment.
Now, Thompson said it will be up to both county boards to decide whether to update their facilities or relocate them. The counties’ consultants, echoed by community feedback that the counties have received, agree that small “podlike” facilities would work best.
“We’re going to focus on the programming instead of the facilities,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to keep kids in the local community.”