Dells native paving way to changes in youth detention
October 10. 2013 1:04PM
Costly health exams and closer monitoring are among the policy recommendations to emerge from a comprehensive review of the Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center.
Commissioners are set to adopt new guidelines for the detention center Oct. 15. It would be the culmination of a review that involved the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The county wants to improve mental and general health care for juveniles in their custody and establish tight standards and due process for disciplinary action.
But putting those recommendations into action will not come without challenges, Juvenile Detention Center director Todd Cheever said.
“The biggest one we’re going to struggle with is health care services,” he said Tuesday in a briefing to the commission.
The new policy requires every juvenile in detention for a week or longer to get a physical exam. Those in custody at least 60 days also would get a dental exam.
Cheever said he is talking with the Sioux Falls Family Residency Program and Falls Community Health about their ability to provide physicians or physician’s assistants to do exams. But he warned commissioners it will require a contract with a dollar amount that could conceivably reach six figures.
He estimated there are 10 to 15 juveniles in custody now who have been at the Juvenile Detention Center a week or longer.
The study also recommends having at least one staff member in charge of every eight juveniles, down from 12 juveniles under the old rules. Cheever thinks the detention center can manage that without hiring more people. If a staffer supervising a classroom of teens has to leave to tend to other duties, for example, some juveniles would have to be moved back to their secure rooms.
“We can do this, but at times we are going to have to put kids in their cells,” Cheever said.
The Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is the gold standard of current thinking on juvenile detention. It served as a guide as Minnehaha County revised detention center policies and procedures in the past year. The process was completed in August.
Whatever the commission adopts Oct. 15 should fully be in place at the detention center by Nov. 1, Cheever said.
The Juvenile Detention Center serves 14 counties and employs 45 full-time and about a dozen part-time employees. They run a facility with 54 secure rooms, six nonsecure rooms, two detoxification rooms, two special security rooms, a classroom, library, gym and dining, kitchen and laundry facilities.
As it relates to suicide prevention, revised policies already are in place, Cheever said.
Ryan Thornell, a University of Sioux Falls criminal justice faculty member and a 2003 graduate of St. Mary High School, led the effort to revise detention center policies and procedures. He described the increased access to mental health professionals for juveniles in the new policy and the creation of a three-tiered category of alerts that triggers contact with those professionals and an evaluation for juveniles at risk of harming themselves.
Thornell also highlighted proposed quality-of-life changes at the detention center. These include expanding visiting hours and barring staff from reading juveniles’ mail without cause. “That’s the biggest change, in my opinion,” Thornell said. Previously, staff read juveniles’ mail “arbitrarily, because they could.” Now, mail can be read only if there is adequate cause, Thornell said, such as mail addressed to a victim.
The new policy also creates a formal policy for responding to juveniles’ grievances. “The (Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative) takes grievances seriously,” Thornell told the commission.
Also, juveniles facing four hours or more of confinement are granted a due-process hearing, and the categories that lead to confinement are limited to assault, sexual assault, riot and escape. Confinement also is capped at 72 hours without a review, and juveniles confined in a restraint chair automatically get medical and mental reviews.
Thornell and Erin Srstka, Minnehaha County coordinator for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, told commissioners while the initiative’s guidelines are a goal to aspire to, almost no facility in the country adopts them in total. However, “once these kids are admitted, they are our responsibility,” Srstka said. “We want as high of standards as we can implement and follow.”