Ramsey County may partner with Hennepin on juvenile detention

Ramsey County has for years been considering what to do with the outdated juvenile detention facility Boys Totem Town. A recent county board vote could mean the county will team up with Hennepin County for juvenile detention programming and facilities. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Ramsey County’s Boys Totem Town, a juvenile detention facility in St. Paul’s Battle Creek neighborhood, was built in the 1930s, and today holds just a fraction of its intended capacity. There are typically less than 40 kids in a facility that once held well over 100.

According to the county, it’s an aged relic that needs to be replaced. And it’s the same scoop for the Hennepin County equivalent, the Hennepin County Home School.

With that in mind, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted in an August meeting to consider teaming up with Hennepin County on juvenile detention.

The memorandum of understanding was approved by both county boards, and comes after over a year of testing the waters -- Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough said the memorandum was passed after a series of preliminary meetings between the two counties.

“We determined first off that our policies and approaches (to juvenile detention) are very similar,” McDonough said in a phone interview.

He noted that both facilities are underutilized. Boys Totem Town operates at less than 50 percent of its current capacity.

Teaming up, or not

The memorandum could mean the counties would team up on a joint facility, sharing a building, staff and a programming philosophy.

Or, it could mean the counties will simply do their own thing. Commissioners were quick to point out that the two counties are only exploring the option, not committing to a partnership.

Ramsey county commissioner Janice Rettman cast the sole dissenting vote of either county board, expressing concern at the meeting that Ramsey County’s juvenile detention program would be “dwarfed by the much bigger entity of Hennepin County.”

“I wish the same due diligence was being looked at with Dakota and Washington counties,” she said.

Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt noted the decision making process has been slow and deliberative, and said it illustrates the importance the county places on the issue.

“It makes sense that when we’re dealing with something this big ... we should do this in a very thoughtful way.”

She did add that once the two counties start looking at a partnership, “the odds are that we will come up with something that will work for both counties.”

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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