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Has our youth gone mild? Incarceration rates at historic low

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The number of minors locked up in the nation's correctional facilities is lower now than it has been in 35 years. Since 1975, juvenile incarceration rates have fluctuated, hitting a high in 1995 of 107,637. The total plummeted to 70,792 in 2010.

A similar trend was observed in Douglas County with a higher number cited in 1997, 532, than in more recent years. Between 2004 and 2006, fewer than 400 juvenile arrests were made each year by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Alexandria Police Department combined; the numbers continue to drop, according to the sheriff's office.

In 2011, the sheriff's office reported approximately 70 arrests followed by less than 60 in 2012.

Countywide, underage drinking, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to appear are top offenses. In Alexandria, theft, disturbing the peace and seat belt violations are prevalent.

"We're fortunate that we don't have juvenile issues at the metro rate," said Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen.

A change in process since the 1990s, along with a decrease in the number of people younger than age 18 in Douglas County, have contributed to the drop in number of arrests and incarcerations.

"There has been more emphasis on trying not to incarcerate juveniles," Wolbersen said. "Instead, youth are sent to foster care or group homes when applicable for rehabilitation."

Programs like D.A.R.E. have helped too. Wolbersen said putting a deputy or officer in the schools with kids makes law enforcement more approachable, more than just a uniform. Years later, adults remember their D.A.R.E. experience and their D.A.R.E. officers.

"It's effective. You'll see a 30-year-old person come up to their D.A.R.E. officer when deputies are out in public and share their stories," Wolbersen said.

Juvenile offenses are broken into two categories. Part I offenses are more serious and include criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson. Part I offenders are generally sent to the state facility in Red Wing if convicted.

Part II offenses include other violations like forgery, embezzlement, vandalism, drug violations, disorderly conduct and runaways (younger than age 18).

Most juveniles arrested in Douglas County are sent to the West Central Regional Juvenile Center (WCRJC) in Moorhead. The center admits young people between the ages of 12 and 18 to its detention center. Wolbersen said the center has rehabilitation programs for chemical dependency and sex offender programs and has both secure and non-secure capability. Offenders of status offenses like tobacco use and runaways are placed in non-secure settings, meaning they aren't locked down at all times.

Inmates at WCRJC attend school and counseling and participate in recreational activities during their stay. An average stay is 13 days. However, youth can spend between 30 and 90 days at the facility.

Douglas County Social Services spent $532,598 on juvenile corrections through facility and placement payments in 2012; $173,937 went to the WCRJC.

STATE LOCKUP STATS

In 1998, 243 teens were committed to Minnesota Department of Corrections juvenile centers in Red Wing and Sauk Centre. Sex offenses, vehicle theft, burglary, assault and robbery were the top offenses. By 2010, Red Wing's population was 139; criminal sexual conduct and burglary were the primary offenses. The Sauk Centre facility closed in 1999.

One-quarter of juvenile inmates in the country have been confined for violent crimes: homicide, aggravated assault, robbery or sexual assault. Forty percent were in violation of probation or convicted of drug possession, low-level property offenses, public order offenses or other offenses that would not be crimes for adults, like alcohol possession or truancy.

Comparatively, of the 9,452 adult inmates in Minnesota prisons as of January 1, 2013, the top offenses were drugs, criminal sexual conduct, homicide, assault, traffic/accidents and burglary.

STUDY REVEALS DECREASE

A report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a company geared toward improving future economic opportunities and stronger communities for children, evaluated numbers over the past four decades. The foundation reported that the United States jails a larger number of its youth population than any other developed country. Incarceration of minors is costly to operate, can put youth at risk for injury and often is not effective in reducing recidivism, according to the report.

In 2010, 7,560 people younger than age 18 were held in adult jails and 2,295 were in adult prisons. As of January 1, 2013 there were seven inmates in Minnesota prisons younger than age 18. The foundation stated that juveniles in adult facilities are more likely to reoffend and are at an elevated risk for physical harm.

Wolbersen said the Douglas County Jail operates on a no sight, no sound principle. Inmates younger than 18 will never come in contact with an adult inmate.

"It's for protection of the juveniles from adult influence," Wolbersen said.

INCARCERATION COMES AT A COST

As the inmate population ages, the cost to house them matures as well. The Minnesota Department of Corrections budgeted $66.3 million for health services in 2013. The amount allocated for the juvenile facility in Togo dropped from $23,000 in 2012 to $19,000.

Nationally, youth incarceration decreased by 37 percent between 1997 and 2010. Regionally, Minnesota (39 percent), North Dakota (23 percent) and Wisconsin (41 percent) all saw similar reductions. South Dakota saw an 8 percent increase. South Dakota is reported as the state with the highest youth confinement rate, 575 per 100,000. Vermont has the fewest juvenile convicts at a per 100,000 rate of 33 in 2010.

While a decline has occurred in all five major racial groups, the largest decline is visible among Asian and Pacific Islander and Latino youth. African-American minors are about five times more likely and Latino and American Indian juveniles are two to three times more apt to be confined than white kids. The Foundation study indicated that racial disparity may point to a system that treats youth of color more punitively than their white peers.

PAST JUVENILE ARRESTS

1997 2002 2004 2005 2006

D.C.S.O. 205 171 100 96 97

Alex P.D. 327 295 267 260 286

Osakis P.D. 8

Information provided by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

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