Juvenile Detention Center Closures Blamed For Rise In Twin Cities Teen Crime

29 March 2022

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A growing number of parents and community activists are expressing concern about the spike in crimes committed by kids.

Some blame the closure of two juvenile detention centers — one in Ramsey and Hennepin County.

The other issue is many kids know about the changes that will get them sent home instead of jail if they commit a crime.

Since the pandemic, there has been an explosion of crime, and many of those responsible are teens — some as young as 13 years old.

“Carjackings are just one of the crimes that we’re seeing, it’s exploded,” said Ramsey County Undersheriff Mike Martin. “Those youth are stealing those cars and then using them to commit other crimes.”

Instead of sending these youth offenders to jail, more often than not, they are being sent home.

“They know it’s a revolving door downtown. They take full advantage of being juveniles, and we have allowed the lawlessness long enough that they have absolutely no fear,” said Lisa Clemons, founder of A Mother’s Love.

Minneapolis police say they’ve witnessed older gang members get kids as young as 13 to grab a gun and retaliate at crimes scenes, targeting these teens because they feel there are no consequences for their action.

Some law enforcement and many boots-on-the-ground organizations say part of the reason is the closure of two places that use to serve as juvenile detention centers.

“It’s showing every day in our communities that these kids are starting to feel as there’s no consequences for them, you know, doing the wrong thing,” said Micki Frost, founder of The Truce Center.

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 focuses on maintaining public safety while reducing confinement of kids.

(credit: CBS)

“Totem Town gives peace to some of these kids’ families, some of these mothers at least to know where their kids are at night, you know, to know that they’re not getting into trouble. To know that, you know, their kid is still alive,” Frost said.

Some say the complete closure of these facilities is already backfiring.

“We’re failing these kids. The criminal justice system no longer holds them accountable or provides meaningful intervention to them,” Martin said.

But others say the 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.

“There is an increase in crime, and it’s really scary, especially if you’ve been a victim,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Board Chair Trista MastasCastillo. “And so you want to have an answer. You want something to blame quickly. Unfortunately, though, if you pull at those stings it doesn’t lead us back to Boys Totem Town.”

MastasCastillo says the new approach is data driven and uses community alternatives and culturally-specific services, like Intensive treatment homes that work directly with young people and their families.

“The kids are still there, they’re not living at home, but they are in community with adults 24-hour supervision, that are teaching them how to read, teaching them social skills and life skills, and really holding them accountable both for what they’ve done but showing them the path forward,” MastasCastillo said.

For some of the most violent youth offenders, there are facilities across the state for them to go, like in Red Wing and Moorhead. But some say being locked up in a large facility does not produce changes in behavior.

“Youth tend to be more successful in settings that are smaller, that are more a kin to a home setting and that provide that intensive behavioral intervention space,” said Catherine Johnson, director of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation in Hennepin County.

Johnson says there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to juveniles and our justice system.

“I firmly believe that the county home school the way it was operating, and based on the models previously, and the facility itself wasn’t the right space,” Johnson said. “And figuring out what the right space is in collaboration with community is what we’re doing now.”

Johnson admits there are gaps. Community groups WCCO talked with say they need to be part of the conversation because something isn’t working.

Both counties would like help from state lawmakers to expand their programs to help fight juvenile crime.

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