Law enforcement struggle without youth detention center

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(ABC 6 News) – On Monday, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s office released a young girl they wanted to send to jail to her family instead. They said they had no other choice because our area no longer has a juvenile detention center.

Just over a year ago, Olmsted County closed the center due to decreasing youth incarceration rates and maintenance costs. Now, law enforcement says they’re frustrated and confused because they don’t know what to do with arrested youth in our area.

"We wind up having to release people that should be going to jail. We release them to family or friends," Sgt. Steve Thompson from the Rochester Police Department said.

If juveniles commit a very serious crime like homicide or sexual assault, the Dakota County Juvenile Detention Center has to take them from our area. For all other jail-worthy crimes, however, they don’t.

"More often than not we’re being told no. You know, Dakota County has their own space issues and they arrest their own juveniles," Thompson said.

RPD says they’re making that call to Dakota County weekly. When their request to send the arrested juvenile is denied, they have to figure out how to keep the community safe while letting that potentially dangerous person go.

"A good deal of time is spent coming up with a safety plan for the family that was affected," he said.

For cases involving domestic assault, RPD said sometimes the victim of the crime has to live with the knowledge that their attacker is not behind bars.

"It’s very clearly less safe. People don’t go to jail for minor reasons," Thompson said.

The Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office says their alternatives to jail are very limited and at times nonexistent. However, the Dodge Fillmore Olmsted (DFO) Community Corrections office says there are other options.

"Incarcerating youth can cause harm and trauma," said Amber Myers, a program manager at DFO Community Corrections.

DFO Community Corrections said they partner with law enforcement on programs meant to keep troubled youth out of jail. These programs help with home life, mental health, and substance abuse problems.

"We’re human and youth are human too. And so we have to pair what that behavior is and how can we make changes to that behavior with what have they experienced in life," Myers said.

They said they’ll continue to have meetings with RPD and the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office to help find a path for arrested youth.