Brookings County Commission mulls juvenile detention

Minehaha County price hike causes consternation.

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BROOKINGS — A proposed contract for juvenile detention services between Brookings and Minnehaha counties spawned a debate at Tuesday morning’s County Commission meeting.

The discussion focused on contract costs and the facilities Brookings County uses or wants to use — the juvenile detention centers in Roberts and Minnehaha counties, respectively — to house youngsters in the court system, if necessary.

Minnehaha County’s proposed contract, which was ultimately approved on a 5-0 vote, sets daily costs in its JDC at $458.48, while shelter care through Lutheran Social Services would be set at $289.20 per day. The contract carries no upfront financial costs for Brookings County, and it still needs to be approved by commissioners in Minnehaha County.

The JDC in Roberts County, on the other hand, is charging around $200 per day in its current contract with Brookings County, which runs through May.

The price differential was subject to discussion among Brookings County commissioners and officials. State’s Attorney Dan Nelson said his office is shopping around for JDC options because of Minnehaha County’s rising price.

“We recently utilized Roberts County. (They’re) half of what you see here … they’re charging, I think, just over $200 a day. I wouldn’t sign anything relating to Minnehaha County because I don’t want to get locked into these high prices,” he said. “… It’s just too much money, I think, for Minnehaha County, especially when we can utilize Roberts County.”

The higher price being charged is in large part because of the construction of a new JDC facility in Minnehaha County, which is set to begin in April.  Those costs could be at least partially borne by entities that may, in time, utilize it to house their young offenders. Furthermore, JDC space is nonexistent in other communities in eastern South Dakota — including Aberdeen, Huron and Pierre.

“Minnehaha really has the market cornered on this thing, and they know it, and that’s why they’re able to charge these prices, because they’ve got the leverage to do it,” Nelson noted.

Currently, the Brookings County Detention Center is only authorized to hold juveniles for four hours before they have to find other accommodations. Sheriff Marty Stanwick said he hopes to at some point be able to hold juveniles for up to 48 hours, but it will require staff training and facility modifications.

Besides contract costs, discussions also focused on having backup options, in case one facility or the other was full. Stanwick said space took quite a bit of discussion with Roberts County.

“I don’t think the county wants to be left out with no place to go,” Stanwick said. “If we’re just signing — I think we need to have the (Minnehaha) contract as long as there’s no money that …”

“I certainly understand your point,” Commissioner Ryan Krogman told Stanwick. “I remember the days when we had ten thousand dollars’ worth of juvenile costs to Minnehaha County for — it was kind of rare, we had two juveniles that had terrible crimes and they needed to stay there and it cost taxpayers quite a bit of money.”

He continued, “However, I just don’t want to put us into a position where we don’t have a spot, and now we’re not following the rules set for juveniles.”

“I’m just using today as an opportunity to have a larger discussion about sort of the path we want to choose as a county,” Nelson said during the discussion, “because I think this plays into a larger discussion about what we’re going to do into the future. If we always have Minnehaha County kind of on the back burner, I just don’t think, we as county, are ever going to really escape, sort of, these high costs associated with that.”

He continued, “Maybe this is an opportunity to sort of forge a path outside of using Minnehaha County.”

Nelson used an example of two Brookings County juveniles who recently at the JDC in Roberts County and how the costs would have been higher if they’d stayed at the JDC in Minnehaha County.

“If that continues to repeat itself, I don’t want you to ask me at the time of budget in June, ‘What the heck’s going on?’” Nelson said. “Commissioners should be cognizant of that and, I think, if you guys want to sign this and have it on the back burner, that’s fine. Just know that this is going to be on ongoing question and issue as we move forward.”

Commissioner Mike Bartley offered his observations.

“I think at this point we sign this particular agreement because it holds us to nothing other than the price, and that gives us another tool in the tool box, so to speak, and Roberts County is another one,” he said. “If I have a juvenile that I think is going to be short-term but needs Sioux Falls maybe OK, but if they’re going to be long-term, because of trial (or) whatever, maybe Roberts County is financially a better decision for us, depending on the juvenile.”

He continued, “I think a lot of it depends on the juvenile themselves and the personality of what’s going on with them, whether we choose one facility or the other — and not necessarily just because of cost. … I think we sign this agreement, we look for an extension for Roberts County on their agreement, and we’ll try and mold the two together. You guys are going to have to decide which facility works best for each individual child.”

Shortly thereafter, commissioners approved the Minnehaha County contract on a 5-0 vote.

— Contact Mondell Keck at mkeck@brookingsregister.com.