Numbers are up at West Central Juvenile Center

county commission 

Numbers are up at West Central Juvenile Center

The West Central Regional Juvenile Center in Moorhead has accommodated more youth in its secure program since the advent of the pandemic, director Jack O’Donnell told the Clay County Commission Tuesday.

“Our averages in 2020 were higher than in 2019,” he told the board. The secure coed residential program offers 32 beds, along with another 15 in the center’s non-secure care section. Residents range in age from 10 to 19 and are admitted after a court order.

O’Donnell shared a break-down of the offenses that led to court orders propelling the young people’s entry into the secure program. Half were what he called “personal offenses,” including assault. Another 20% have committed property crimes – burglary, theft, criminal damage to property. He termed remaining 30% “societal,” primarily drug offenses (possession or distribution), terrorizing and disorderly conduct.

O’Donnell pointed out, “Youth are getting more violent,” citing assault, sexual assault and robbery.

But the juvenile center, which serves nine additional counties in Minnesota along with Cass in North Dakota, emphasizes education and counseling rather than punishment. In addition to a substance-abuse disorder program, it concentrates on trauma therapy. ACE – adverse childhood experiences – are a common thread among many residents, O’Donnell said, including abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. “Out-of-home placement is a last resort, but it may be necessary for traumatizing situations,” he told the commissioners. “Every one is different.”

Last year, the center provided some 2,500 hours of intensive one-on-one counseling by psychotherapists and another 845 hours of assessments and staff consults.

Commissioner David Ebinger, the former Moorhead police chief, praised the juvenile center’s staff and programs. After a tour in his first weeks on the commission, he said, “We can be proud of that center and what it provides for young people. This is a remarkable facility.”

Chairman Kevin Campbell agreed. “We don’t just incarcerate these kids,” he said. “We give them the education and so many other things to help them make their way in life.” He noted that the West Central Regional Juvenile Center gets accolades from all over the region. “It is considered the leading program of its kind in the state.”

Veterans Services

Clay County Veterans Services may be small, but it’s mighty, Veterans Service Officer Curt Cannon reported to the commission as part of its yearly review of county agencies.

Cannon and Jennifer Conklin, veterans benefits program coordinator, connect veterans with the state and federal benefits they are due and serve as their advocates. Said Cannon, a large part of their work is assisting qualified vets in securing pensions, education and training, counseling, home loan guarantees, life insurance, burial and memorial benefits, health care, disability compensation and other programs for themselves and their survivors.

A cadre of volunteers works afternoons to help carry out programs. He applauded their 459 hours of volunteering in 2020, somewhat reduced by the pandemic from the typical level of 1,100 to 1,200 hours.

Among the biggest achievements of the past year, he said, was helping disburse one-time relief grants of $1,000 through the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Grants are targeted at military vets and surviving spouses impacted by COVID-19. The department also has administered $25,000 in relief grants earmarked for veterans by Clay County as part of its CARES Act funding.

Cannon said he and Conklin also serve as liaisons with both Minnesota and North Dakota departments of veterans affairs, the Veterans Administration claims officer, the VA Medical Center and the region’s chapters of national veterans service organizations.

– Nancy Edmonds Hanson

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