SE MN authorities grapple with lack of juvenile detention center

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(ABC 6 News) – According to the Rochester Police Department, three teens robbed a local smoke shop early Monday morning. Police say they broke into a smoke shop and stole approximately $1,000 in merchandise. But, when police couldn’t find a juvenile detention center with space for them, the teens were sent home to their parents. Local law enforcement said that has been an issue for the past two years.

"We’ve gotta have other options. And right now, here, we don’t," said Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson.

But according to Director of Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted Community Corrections Nikki Niles, in 2020 there were 55 youth in Olmsted County that met the criteria for detention. In 2021 that number dropped to just 21 following national and statewide trends where fewer youth are being incarcerated each year.

"We are also kind of forcing our system if you will to think outside the box, right? One plus one doesn’t always equal two," Niles said.

She said without the detention center, they have leaned into probation officers and social workers, and relied on secondary resources to reform behavior long-term. Their goal is to avoid sticking a child in jail for a night, which they say can be a traumatizing experience.

Niles also points to a nonprofit called Three Rivers Restorative Justice as an alternative to the missing detention center.

Three Rivers was founded in 2019, the same year the detention center closed. Specialists there facilitate conversations between people who have committed a crime, and victims. Their mission is healing and reforming behavior.

However, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s office says it feels like the burden has been placed entirely on them.

Without one locally, the sheriff’s office has to take youth to other Minnesota juvenile detention centers, some of which are hours away. If there is no room in any of those centers, the youth gets released back into the community.