29 March 2022
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On Monday, WCCO told you about the closure of two juvenile detention centers, one each in Ramsey and Hennepin counties.
It comes as we’re seeing a rise in crimes being committed by teenagers.
Now, a St. Paul mother is sharing her story. She wants people to understand the plight of parents who need help holding their children accountable for the crimes they commit.
Her voice is one of many wanting some kind of place where teens can go to get the help they need before it’s too late.
“My son has been brought home several times, more than once, more than twice, in connection with being in a car that was stolen,” said Tonya Lewis.
Lewis says her 15-year-old son’s journey through the juvenile criminal justice system started by skipping school.
“He was truancy in school. He was getting brought home in stolen cars. I called the police on my son about a gun that he had. Me, I made the phone call. Nothing happened. I reached out to them asking, ‘What kind of help can I get for my son?’” said Lewis.
Lewis says her son continued to get slaps on the wrist while the crimes he was involved with escalated.
“They bought him home and I refused to let him in the house. I said, ‘Take him to jail,’ and was threatened by the police that if I didn’t let him come home that they were going to call child services on me. So I told them, ‘Maybe I need child services. If my son is running around in stolen cars, maybe I need help with him,” Lewis said.
Lewis believes early intervention is crucial when it comes to redirecting youth offenders. She struggles with the decision made to close Totem Boys Town.
“It needs to be somewhere for us moms that want to save our kids before they have records. A place for them to go. Somewhere to scare them or somewhere for them to say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be in Totem Town. I don’t want to go to this place,’ and it’s going to make them think twice about some of the decisions that they make before they make them,” said Lewis.
Boys Totem Town and the Hennepin County Home School closed in 2019. Both housed some of the most violent youth offenders in Ramsey and Hennepin counties for more than 100 years.
The closings came after both counties adopted a new system that reduces the number of kids in detention.
“When Boys Totem Town was closed and the Hennepin County Home School we lost our ability to seriously intervene with kids that are involved in criminal activity,” said Ramsey County Undersheriff Mike Martin.
Some law enforcement and boots on the ground organizations believe youth offenders know there is nowhere for them to be held after they are caught by police. So once they are released they continue to offend.
Ramsey County says research shows kids do better when they are able to remain in home or in community-based programs while under the supervision of the state.
Lewis says that is a hard sell to parents trying to help guide their children away from crime.
“I feel like it’s letting the kids down. It’s letting parents down because there’s nowhere for us to send our kids or for them to go to rehabilitate,” Lewis said.
Some of the most violent youth offenders are taken to other facilities across the state.
Lewis says her son eventually got the guidance he needed once he left Minnesota and went to live with his older sister in another state.