SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Juveniles who commit crimes in Minnehaha and 15 other counties may not get sent to jail or prison but they may get sent to the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) in Minnehaha County.
Last year, there were 414 admissions with 283 from Minnehaha County and 125 from member counties and another 40 from non-member counties. Member counties pay a per diem rate to house youth in the JDC. Non member counties pay a higher per diem rate.
The JDC is focused on preventing youth from committing more crimes when they leave the center, said JDC director Jamie Gravett.
“The kids we serve, we don’t want them (sitting in) a cell,” Gravett said. “We are trying to make a difference.”
Youth are held accountable for their actions but the JDC must also work with them to decrease or prevent the possibility of more criminal activity in the future, he said.
The JDC and the public do not want youth to commit more crimes and end up in prison or jail. That’s not the best outcome and it costs the public more money in the long term, Gravett said.
But just like Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken and Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead talked on Sept. 19 about the complexities of dealing with crime and the criminal, that’s also true for juvenile crime, Gravett said.
“They come in with a lot of different issues. The majority have trauma issues, some have struggled in school,” Gravett said. “Along with those issues, they might (get) aggressive or violent.”
Staff and community partners work to “nail down what’s causing that and give guidance,” he said.
But a facility built in 1969 with the most recent of two additions built about 25 years ago, makes it difficult to do the work at the JDC, said county commissioner and building committee chairwoman Cindy Heiberger.
The condition of the building makes it difficult to implement best practices when dealing with juvenile crime, she said.
And the need for a JDC will not lessen in the future.
“Our juvenile detention center (is projected) to be out of room in roughly three to five years,” Heiberger said.
A study by criminal justice consultant Bill Garnos said the average daily population (ADP) from 2012-2021 was 22.9 juveniles. The ADP was 27.5 in 2021, 30.3 in 2020 and 29.2 in 2019. It was 20.7 in 2016.
The study said the average daily population in 2026 will be 20.5 youth from Minnehaha County, 10.1 from member counties and 3.6 from non-member areas for a total ADP of 34.2 By 2031, the ADP will increase to 38.9 from a total ADP of 34.2 in 2026.
The county has three options to address needs and the future ADP, Heiberger said.
It can renovate the existing facility, build a new or do nothing, she said.
The building committee is expected to choose one of those three options at its Oct. 4 meeting, she said. The chosen option will be recommended to the county board.
Long hallways with little flexibility
About eight months ago the county starting reviewing the facility to evaluate today’s needs and future needs. The committee has been working with architects and contractor over the summer to evaluate the building and needs, Gravett said.
The facility is a linear style facility and its best practice today to create pods according to the classification of the detainee.
“You don’t want 10-year-olds with 17-year-olds. You don’t want low offenders with high offenders,” Heiberger said.
The building does not offer any flexibility to separate youth, Gravett said.
“We have one hallway with all male youth,” Gravett said. “A better situation would be a smaller number of housing units that are more manageable.”
More housing units would mean less movement throughout the entire building which is more efficient and safer, Gravett said.
Right now, staff moves youth from rooms down the hallway to various activities.
“Staff has to plan very carefully for all the movement in the building,” Gravett said.
Movement in long hallways means there are chances for lower offender youth to interact with higher offender youth and for youth, in general, to act out, Gravett said.
An evaluation of the building said the long, narrow hallways increase risk for staff and youth as staff needs to be creative in how youth are transported from their rooms to other areas of the center.
Other studies noted needed improvements
This isn’t the first time the county has considered possible improvements or options for the JDC.
A presentation at the Sept. 20 building committee meeting referred to a 2017 study from the University of South Dakota that identified the need for a sally port and a need for improved healthcare, particularly dental. A 2019 facility task force study also identified the need for a sally port and for renovated courtroom.
Law enforcement must escort youth from the outdoors and into the facility without what is described as secure enclosed sally port. The outdoor drop off area is a risk because it’s a chance for youth to escape, building evaluations have said.
One shortfall of the courtroom area is that in-custody defendants are escorted to court along the same hallway used by victims, family members, attorneys, and staff.
Heiberger said the classrooms aren’t adequate as there are times when the JDC has maxed out available classroom space.
The county’s building committee spent its Sept. 20 meeting reviewing a building evaluation and touring the center.
“My intention was to show why we need (a project),” said Tyler Klatt the assistant to the county commission. “The whole point was to show where inefficiencies might be in the building now.”
Heiberger said about 12 years ago, a study recommended a 100-bed facility but that type of option won’t meet today’s needs. Now, a study recommends about 68 beds.
Better for youth, better for staff
Gravett said if the county selects an option to renovate or build new, it would improve the environment for youth and for stafff.
“This is a difficult job, it’s a stressful job,” Gravett said.
But better conditions can reduce the difficulty and the stress, he said.
“You want to make it less like a jail or prison and more like a secure school or secure hospital,” Gravett said.