Placement costs drive up budget

Published 7:41 am Monday, August 23, 2010

With Mower County facing a preliminary budget shortfall of more than $1 million, one cost straining the budget is out of home placements for juveniles.

After a minor commits a crime, he or she is often placed in custody temporarily or for an extended period of time, and Mower County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said that cost is one of many factors increasing the county budget shortfall.

In 2007, the county budgeted $379,000 for out of home placements in Correctional Services. The actual cost was $465,096 and has increased since then. Last year, out of home placements cost $875,587, and the cost is projected at $963,922 for 2010.

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According to Correctional Services Director Steve King, Mower County isn’t out of the norm, as Freeborn County’s corrections is expected to spend about $900,000 this year.

A select few

A number of factors have led to an increase in out of home placement costs. The number of juveniles in corrections has actually declined at a slight rate. However, King said there is a group of young people committing adult-like crimes.

“We have some kids out there that are creating adult-level-type crimes, and these folks require adult-level like sanctions,” King said.

Of about 210 juveniles being placed by corrections, a small number of them are spiking the costs, King said.

“We’re not placing a ton of kids, but ones we do are very needy and require a lot of programming,” King said.

King said there are few juveniles placed in long-term juvenile detention centers. Long-term centers, especially for sex offenders, can cost a great deal.

Another factor is the cost to house juveniles. The Sheriff’s Youth Ranch closed in 2007, and King said it was a low cost facility for housing juveniles. Now, officials have to travel further for placements. Winona Group Home is slated to close, too. While King said the county rarely uses that facility, the closing will increase the demand at other facilities.

“It’s the cumulative affect of programs closing, so there are very few left, and they can raise their per Diem because it’s a supply and demand issue,” King said.

Despite the increase in the crimes, King said he hasn’t seen a higher number of troubled families, troubled children or parents who choose or are unable to raise their children. He noted there are always troubled families and teens in a town.

“When the families fail, and the schools fail, and perhaps human services fails, corrections is the end of the game,” King said. “We’re dealing with some kids that are tough kids, but at the same time, I have great hope for them.”

Shifting costs?

Out of home placements are done by corrections and Mower County Department of Human Services. Human services places a child if there’s an imminent threat to their safety. Corrections places a minor after he or she has committed a crime.

Often times when human services’ costs increase, corrections decreases.

Human services Director Julie Stevermer pointed to a change in the legislature in 2005. Now in human services, Stevermer said a child must meet a certain criteria in order to be placed at a certain group home or facility.

After that change Stevermer said human service’s number of placements decreased. Brent Gunderson, a supervisor in social services, said that was coupled with a move to reduce costs because of budget issues.

“We’ve made … a concerted effort to reduce costs for out of home placement,” he said.

According to Stevermer, the state has shifted more of the costs to the county because of less federal funding.

Gunderson said human services doesn’t remove children from their homes unless there’s an imminent risk of harm, and he said the thought is that the children will do better in a family home, even if there are some family issues.

While Gunderson admitted the two are connected, he said he’s not sure human services directly causes corrections’ budget to increase.

King noted he only controls a third of the out of home placement costs in corrections. The rest comes from law enforcement placing students in detention after an arrest. Judges also place juveniles on detention holds between court dates and after sentencing.

Placing a juvenile isn’t a simple process. King said he places juveniles by need and based on things like chemical dependency and mental illness.

According to King, 70 percent of juveniles in corrections are taking some form of psychotropic medication. King said that’s an indicator of a high number of mental illnesses and mood disorders.

Mental health

Since the state closed many mental health facilities in the early 1990s, King said corrections is now serving the people who would have used such services.

“Corrections is now becoming a mental health care taker,” he said. “… We get a lot of mental illness because there’s no place else for them, and it’s sad. I find myself seeing the transition that we are criminalizing the mentally ill.”

Minnesota closed the regional health centers to save money and transfer treatment to local facilities. However, King said it hasn’t worked as planned.

Without regional mental health centers, there’s no place to house people with mental illness except through corrections. King said that’s something the state of Minnesota should be addressing.

“The need is too great to not have a few regional centers,” King said.

A continued cost

Oscarson said it’s not like people like King are opting to spend tax-payer money at will. He said the county will continue to give juveniles the services they require.

“How do you solve it?” Oscason said. “I don’t know, but it’s here, and we’ve got to deal with it, and it’s going to cost money.”

Simply serving fewer people isn’t an option, as King said he has to meet the needs of the juveniles and adults in corrections. King noted that corrections and human services do seek insurance money from families, and that not all the money is coming from the county and state.

“I am here to oversee a budget in the county, but I’m also here to make sure needs are being met, and that’s by our adult case load and particularly our juvenile case load.” King said. “And we have some needy folks in this county.”

“They come to us for services. We have to provide it,” he added.