From the Desks of Commissioners Gerald Benign & Cindy Heiberger

By: 
Gerald Benign & Cindy Heiberger, Minnehaha County Commissioners

Providing a secure, safe space for youth who are moving through the criminal justice system is a unique problem. At the Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), our staff works with youth who are in crisis. The JDC serves as a regional facility, providing secure detention for 15 partner counties and the South Dakota Department of Corrections. 

The JDC opened in 1969, with renovations in 1988 and 1995. The JDC has 40 secure rooms, two classrooms, a courtroom, a multipurpose/lunchroom space, a gym, administrative offices, and an outdoor recreation area. The JDC maintains a legally required 8 youth to 1 staff ratio, which plays a significant role on staffing and programming in the facility. While the facility is able to meet its need, it does not conform to industry best practices and there are significant inefficiencies that cannot sustain long-term. 

The age of the building is beginning to show as much of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. Beyond the age of the building, the physical layout poses unique challenges for staff. The sleeping rooms are arranged in long hallways. Youth at JDC may have mental health conditions, including feelings of suicide, which make response time critical to ensuring safety. When staff needs to separate youth, whether based on issues occurring in the facility or based on their charges, there are limited options to effectively separate them. The long, narrow hallways also increase the risk of fights between youth while staff are taking them to and from their room.

The courtroom and adjacent spaces pose additional layout inefficiencies. There is one hallway which judges, attorneys, defendants, parents, and visitors all use during court proceedings. These hearings can become tense and emotional and the existing layout does not provide a way to separate groups. 

Bill Garnos, who has done population and trend projections for the Minnehaha County Jail, completed a population and trends analysis for the JDC. This analysis found that by 2026 the JDC will need between 43 and 48 beds, and by 2041 the JDC will need between 60 and 69 beds – the current JDC has 40 beds.

Minnehaha County has considered the future of the JDC multiple times in the last few years. In 2009, an architect was hired to consider either a new or remodeled facility. Additional reviews occurred in 2017 and 2019, both times identifying needs including a sally port (i.e. a secure garage for law enforcement), improved healthcare areas, and renovated courtroom.  

Prompted by the condition of the facility and the projected space constraints, Minnehaha County has completed a conceptual plan to either renovate and remodel or build a new Juvenile Justice Center. The remodel option results in a 57,000 square-foot facility (which would include portions of the original 1969 construction), constructed in 31 months, for a total cost of $48,954,000. The new facility option results in a 67,000 square-foot facility, constructed in 27 months, for a total cost $50,307,000. Both options include 64 secure beds. 

The cost to taxpayers is a primary concern when considering projects like this. Using an estimated $50 million bond to pay for the project, the impact on a $100,000 home is estimated to be a $21.39 property tax increase. The first year of this increase would be the largest, decreasing each year as payments are made and as the Courthouse bond is payed off in 2027. This increase is in the bond redemption levy and does not include any changes to the general fund levy or building fund levy. 

The cost of this project is significant, but we feel it is important to think about the benefits to making this investment in our community. This plan will allow Minnehaha County to continue to hold youth accountable for their actions while improving our ability to provide education and programming with the vision of reducing recidivism and directing them on to a productive adult life. An improved Juvenile Justice Center puts Minnehaha County in a position to provide even better services to our youth, to provide an improved environment for our staff, to create efficiencies between court services and the detention services, and to prepare for the future. 

If you interested in learning more, please visit the Minnehaha County website, presentations and frequently asked questions are available at www.minnehahacounty.org, under the Commission tab.

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