Juvenile Detention Center decision was longtime coming

The decision to close Olmsted County's Juvenile Detention Center after more than two decades was a decision that was likely years in the making as youth detention numbers declined.

The Olmsted County Juvenile Detention Center Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist /

Closing Olmsted County’s Juvenile Detention Center amid the COVID-19 pandemic was based on budget issues, but it wasn’t a snap decision.

“The board has been watching these numbers at the juvenile detention center for years,” Olmsted County Board Chairman Matt Flynn said.

The facility has cost the county approximately $1.2 million annually to operate with a staff of 11 and the number of local youth in the center has continued dropping, according to County Administrator Heidi Welsch.

While other counties had sent juveniles to be held at the Rochester center, Welsch said the related fees didn’t come close to covering local costs. Director of Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted (DFO) Community Corrections Travis Gransee said the facility was primarily being used by counties other than Olmsted, especially for the last few years.

The JDC charged $295 per diem for holding youth from other counties. The facility was the only one in the southern region of the state.


“It doesn’t make sense to have Olmsted County taxpayers subsidizing other counties,” she said.

Youth in the county who need placement at a juvenile detention center will be housed in a Dakota County facility in Hastings. Gransee said there may be options in the community to house non-violent youth who need placement options, but those things need to be worked out yet.

Not pandemic driven

Thursday announcement came as the center had already been reduced to two occupants -- one from Olmsted County and one from elsewhere -- due to precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two being held there have been moved to Dakota County.

Gransee said the closure was not a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but the pandemic may have accelerated the decision.

The pandemic, though, will likely have an impact on where the 11 full-time staff members find new positions within the county. The staff continues to work their scheduled shifts until the facility is officially closed, which could happen at the end of the month.

The staff members are being given the opportunity to transition to other roles within the county while maintaining their same salary.

In their roles as juvenile corrections officers, they are not employed by the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, which staffs the Adult Detention Center. However, some could be reassigned to the jail.


No vote but big support

The decision, which was announced Thursday, came without a vote by county commissioners, but Welsch and Flynn said it has full board support.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that our detention center is low volume and high cost,” Flynn said.

There is no set closing date, but Gransee said he anticipates it will happen by the end of May.

Welsch said the county won’t be able to save the full $1.2 million spent on the center each year, due to the need to transport juveniles and pay for detention services in other parts of the state, but she said she expects the saving to be more than $500,000.

“I’m hoping we will get close to $1 million, but it may not be that much,” she said.

Future use

While the facility is in good structural condition, Mat Miller, the county’s director of facilities and building operations, said any changed use will likely require significant renovations due to cells and brick walls .


How future renovations will unfold is unknown, but county officials had preliminary discussion as the potential for closing the facility appeared.

Welsch said parts of the building are already being used for other purposes, which could point to potential for the space that housed juveniles in the past.

One wing of the facility is already being remodeled to house state offices, and another section is used by the local Damascus Way program, which provides temporary transitional housing for former prison inmates.

Both uses could potentially expand into the vacant space. One thing that likely won’t go into that space is a resource for the homeless due to its distance from downtown.

Ultimately, Welsch said no final decisions will be made until the county has a better fix on budget concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll see where discussions go,” she said.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or
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