Non-delinquents in juvenile detention up 28 percent

Published 9:56 am Monday, August 8, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — The number of children confined in Minnesota’s juvenile correctional facilities who haven’t been charged with a crime has risen 28 percent over the last six years, raising the possibility they’ll come out as a criminals, child advocates warn.

Children who aren’t charged currently account for a fifth of the population at the facilities, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Sunday. The average population at state facilities was 105 children as of July 1, 2015, the most recent data available on the Minnesota Department of Corrections website.

State officials told the newspaper that county child protection workers and local judges have nowhere else to send troubled children. But child advocates warn that correctional facilities are often more punitive than therapeutic and use disciplinary procedures no longer accepted in the mental health profession. Last year, the Anoka County juvenile center recorded 22 incidents of restraint and 159 incidents of a practice in which a child is placed alone in an unlocked room.

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“We’re locking away far too many kids, and that’s a huge cause for concern,” said state Rep. Joe Mullery, a longtime advocate for juvenile justice reform. “Sending kids to incarceration, when they haven’t even committed a crime, has proved to end up making them hardened criminals.”

In a major ruling last fall, Hennepin County District Judge Margaret Daly said removing children from their homes and placing them in large detention centers exposed them to more trauma and doesn’t help kids who need mental health services.

Minnesota Deputy Corrections Commissioner Ron Solheid told the newspaper that the recent rise in non-delinquent stays is overshadowing strides the state has made since the 1980s in reducing the overall population at juvenile detention centers. Still, Solheid said police and child protection officials often have nowhere else to send children with extreme behavioral problems that parents can’t handle. If it wasn’t for the facilities many such children would end up on the streets, he said.

“These children are a symptom of a much greater problem and that is: Where else are they going to go?”