The cost of poverty

Published 7:47 am Wednesday, November 28, 2012

King: Social factors, poverty likely to drive future placement costs

When Correctional Services Director Steve King looks at the numbers, he doesn’t see the county’s budget concerns with out of home placements going away anytime soon.

King highlighted a number of community factors for the county board Tuesday, like a high number of children living in poverty, more than 40 percent of children being born to unwed mothers and a high teen pregnancy rate.

While King acknowledge such factors don’t necessarily mean someone will be a criminal, he said there’s a definite correlation.

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“Generally speaking, these numbers drive our budget,” King said.

Out of home placements have been one of the key factors driving the county’s budget woes, both through corrections and human services.

While he should be under budget this year, King has budgeted $1 million for such placements in 2012.

“It’s a big deal to have $1 million every year go toward out of home placements of juvenile delinquents,” King said.

In 2010, about 16.4 percent of children ages 17 and younger in Mower County were living in poverty, compared to 15 percent in Minnesota, according to

In 2009, 48 percent of Mower County students received free and reduced lunch, and that number has jumped to 55.1 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Education data.

In 2010, about 43 percent of Mower County children were born to unwed mothers, compared to 34 percent in Minnesota, according to

“These numbers don’t cause crime, but there’s a definite correlation in crime when you look at these stats,” King said.

While there will be exceptions, King said, children born into poverty and single families are more likely to struggle.

“They don’t have the means; they don’t have the support,” he said. “They are going to be high needs families, generally speaking.”

Mower has also had a high teen birth rate, and Mower County public schools had a dropout rate of 8.3 percent compared to 5.5 percent in the state.

King also said a higher rate of children are arrested in Mower County than the state average. Mower had an arrest rate in 2010 of 19.7 per every 1,000 children, compared to the state’s rate of 16 per every 1,000.

Despite all those factors, King noted numbers show Mower’s placement rate — 5.7 children per every thousand — is lower than the state rate of 8.7 per every thousand children.

“This is going to drive the budget for a number of years,” King said.

Some numbers are more directly boding than poverty numbers to King. Mower County has the 11th highest number of teenage sex offenders in Minnesota.

“These juvenile offenders are committing very adult-like crimes and the age is getting younger,” King said.

King had a simple message to the board and the community: “We need to own this as a community.” He added the problem is one for the entire county to address.

“We all have a piece in social norms and raising of kids,” King said.

Despite all the problems, King is taking a glass half full approach.

“We certainly are struggling, but we’re not completely broken,” King said.

King noted out of home placement costs have been an issue for many years, and he noted his office hasn’t spent less than $600,000 on out of home placements since 1994.

“I’d like people to understand this is a community problem,” King said. “We seemingly are on a path of poor economic well-being, poor family structure, high crime rate — at least arrest rate — and all these things are going to make us busy here in Mower County Corrections.”