A Youth Services International (YSI) official says the organization is working hard to mend relationships with those in the Martin and Faribault County juvenile justice system.
Jesse Williams, senior vice president of operations for YSI headquartered in Sarasota, Fla., says a meeting recently held at Elmore Academy was an excellent first step and opportunity to have and open and frank dialogue.
"We want to restore their confidence. We have a 14-year history of being a valuable resource for the counties and still believe we can be," he says.
The March 21 meeting was attended by judges Robert Walker and Douglas Richards, Faribault County Attorney Troy Timmerman, representatives of the probation and public defenders offices, Human Services and law enforcement officials from both counties.
In February, both counties stopped sendingtheir youths to the facility, citing lack of supervision and reports of violence as reasons.
"We heard their concerns very clearly and take them seriously," Williams says. "We acknowledge there has been a spike in youth on youth incidents over the past several months."
"We've always done internal investigations of incidences that come to our attention and report them to proper authorities," he adds.
Williams says YSI has a plan in process to address any concerns and problems.
He maintains the facility offers a safe environment for the youths being placed there.
"Today it's a safe place. We're working to make it safer and want to make sure it stays that way," Williams says.
Elmore Academy provides residential treatment for at-risk males and females ages 13-19. The facility also houses children on a temporary basis, such as those who are runaways or truants.
Williams says he's looking forward to scheduling a tour of the facility that was agreed to at the meeting.
"We'd like to give them a sense and flavor of the place and see the improvements we have made," he says.
Some of the safety measures implemented so far include:
installing 36 security cameras throughout student areas;
revising training policies dealing with intervention techniques and building relations with youths;
discharging students with assaultive behavior;
increasing salaries for supervisors and direct care staff to attract and retain quality staff.
The academy is licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Teens are placed there through a court order, CHIPS (Child In Need of Protection Services) petition or voluntary placement overseen by Human Services.
Currently, Martin and Faribault counties are sending their juveniles to Albert Lea, Rochester, Willmar or Estherville, Iowa.
Williams wouldn't comment on the financial impact losing the students is having.
"It would certainly be helpful to have them use the facility," he says. "We're certainly not thinking along those lines, of closing. Not at this point."
The facility is licensed for 75 males and 50 females. There are currently 50 students housed at the academy.