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Activists denounce Hennepin and Ramsey's new joint youth corrections center

While state prisons for youth still use tactics like solitary confinement, Hennepin and Ramsey counties say their new facility will create a softer approach to juvenile detention.

While state prisons for youth still use tactics like solitary confinement, Hennepin and Ramsey counties say their new facility will create a softer approach to juvenile detention.

Some call it a “residential treatment center.” Others say it’s a prison.

Whatever the terminology, Hennepin and Ramsey counties’ proposed joint facility for juvenile offenders is all but certain to open its doors by 2019. At most it’ll hold 165 unlucky teens. 

Sharing a facility will theoretically help the counties streamline their programs so that teens from St. Paul – who are currently housed at Totem Town – receive the same treatment as those from Minneapolis – who are sent to a complex in Minnetonka.  

Prison abolition groups rallied on Friday to oppose the new “superprison.”

“If the goal were to actually support our youth, the county would choose to promote community programming, address systemic disinvestment from our neighborhoods and schools, and fund alternatives to incarceration,” according to a Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee statement.

“County officials have also stated one aim of the proposed facility is to advance racial equity. We are nothing short of disgusted by the assertion that a new super youth prison that would disproportionately target poor youth and youth of color could advance any semblance of justice.”

Activists say they’re fighting racially disproportionate imprisonment – youth of color comprise 58 percent of incarcerated teens, despite making up only 22 percent of the population – as well as price gouging in commissary prices, phone calls home, and medical care.

County officials assert the new facility will be more treatment-based, less punitive.

In 2006, Hennepin County introduced the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which decreased the number of youths committed by 60 percent through 2014 by diverting low-risk kids to the care of a guardian instead.

Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers contends that despite the overall decreases, the proportion of incarcerated black teens actually increased. In 2007, black youth comprised more than 60 percent.