Claim and Rebuttal Statement

Community Not Cages’ Response to County Attorney Karin Sonneman’s “February 17, 2021: A Response to Concerns Regarding Juvenile Detention in Winona County”

Claim: “There are currently no actual plans in the works to design and build a juvenile facility here in Winona County.”

Rebuttal: As Winona Post Editor Chris Rogers documents, “minutes from the Jail Design and Construction Committee meeting in January, on which Sonneman sits: ‘County met with DOC [Department of Corrections] to review potential juvenile holding solutions … The existing Jail Annex may be used for this function’…The committee got into some of the details of design considerations, like an estimate that the county would need 6-8 juvenile beds and the fact that rec. rooms in the planned new adult jail could also be used for a juvenile facility, while other parts of the two facilities would have to remain separate… But if estimating bed numbers and mapping out a possible shared rec. room don’t count as ‘plans,’ my dictionary must be outdated.”

More recently, Attorney Sonneman has begun referring to these plans as a group home, which further confuses this conversation. It is important to note that according to Prison Policy Initiative: “The largest share of confined youth are held in detention centers. These are the functional equivalents of jails in the adult criminal justice system. Like jails, they are typically operated by local authorities, and are used for the temporary restrictive custody of defendants awaiting a hearing or disposition (sentence).” A group home is not the same. 

“Let us be clear: our punishment system, which is grounded in genocide and slavery and which has continued to replicate the functions and themes of those atrocities, can never be made just.”

Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes, “The State Can’t Give Us Transformative Justice

Claim: “We see a lot of families struggle to travel to see the juveniles when they are placed out of Winona County.”

Rebuttal: Arguments for jails “closer to home” reinforce the idea that jails and police create “safety.” Investment in jails takes away the capacity to build resources that can create well-being. If jailing youth were off the table, the county would be required to build other ways of addressing problems youth face at school, with their families, and in their communities. Youth incarceration is not inevitable; rather, it is driven by policy choices made by adults. We don’t want children separated from their families ever. We want zero youth incarceration. 

According to “The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model,” published in 2016 by the  U.S. Department of Justice: “By all measures available, the United States incarcerates youth at a substantially higher rate than does any other country. Although international comparisons of juvenile incarceration rates are challenging due to reporting variations… ‘the U.S. incarceration rate for our youth was nearly five times that of the next closest country, South Africa.’”

Claim: “The moral implications of not having a local option is the real question here. Think back to when you were 12 years old. How would you have felt if you were taken out of your home, placed in a police squad car and driven for several hours if not more, and locked in non-descript cinderblock room, and then transported back the next morning not to your home, but to Court and have to appear before strangers?”

Rebuttal: What are the moral implications of a society so failed that it invests and prepares for the warehousing of children? Regardless of where a child is incarcerated, they are still traumatized and dehumanized in the interactions with the criminal punishment system. 

Olmsted County was able to close their juvenile detention center after an investment in restorative practices that reduced the need for a detention center, and according to Winona documents, they plan on capitalizing on such efforts. As the 2019 Winona County Jail Advisory Committee Needs Assessment and Preferred Option Report states: “A facility to house juveniles is badly needed in southeast Minnesota, and beds can be made available to other counties when not in use by Winona County, creating a potential revenue stream. This is worthy of further investigation.” This report should tell us one thing: If they build it, they will fill it. 

The county cannot claim moral authority if it plans to profit off of the detainment of children. Instead, this profiteering creates a perverse incentive to increasingly harass, arrest, and criminalize the youth in multiple communities, upholding structural inequalities of racism, sexism, classism, and ableism, as we’ve documented here

Winona County can choose to invest in growing and maintaining systems of harm, or it can invest in addressing the root causes of social oppression. We want to invest in things that keep us all safe: housing, child care, youth centers, education programs, family support and counseling. 

Claim: “As Chair of the CJCC and as County Attorney, I have led our initiatives to strengthen our juvenile justice diversion programs and strengthen our partnership with DOC and the Restorative Justice program for juveniles”

Rebuttal: All programming offered through Restorative Justice falls under the auspices of the Department of Corrections, and we reject it being located within a criminalizing framework. We seek to remove the state’s control of justice, and rather put healing in the hands of community-based resources. 

Amidst critiques of the county’s potential investment in juvenile detention, Sonneman has begun referring to what was formerly referred to as a juvenile detention center as a “group home” and likening it to Main House. During a meeting with the Winona Human Rights Commision, County Attorney Sonneman was directly asked who would fund and oversee this “group home” since she referenced it’s necessity being linked to children not having safe homes to return to. This instance for housing would fall under the auspices of the MN DHS not the MN DOC as it would constitute a foster placement. According to the MN DHS Summary of Child Foster Care Responsible Agency Requirements, there are several very specific requirements including a MAPCY Assessment and an OHPP plan. At this time Sonneman has not answered this question. 

We are demanding an investment in resources that transform the conditions that engender harm and violence on an interpersonal and institutional level. Investing in jails doesn’t prevent harm. Only divesting from this model will we be able to invest in addressing poverty, access to non-coercive mental health and addiction services, art, education, and youth centers, as well as support systems for families. 

Public claim: At the March Human Rights Commission meeting and in the Winona Post, the county attorney likened the plans for a detention center “akin to a college dorm.” 

Rebuttal: This is a euphemism hiding the cruel reality of how the criminal legal system impacts the future of youth. According to Dunn and Sabree’s “Just Learning”:“Currently, after being released from juvenile justice facilities, as many as two-thirds of youth drop out of school, and between 50 and 70% return to confinement within two years” (2014). Sonneman’s statement continues to erase the trauma and harm done by state incarceration to children. These are not dorms. Dorms are sites of mobility. Adults can come and go, attend classes, and enjoy attending co-curricular events. They are not held non-consensually. Exposing this reality is critical to demanding alternative investments in our community: restorative justice practices outside of the department of corrections and investments in addressing poverty, access to non-coercive mental health and addiction services, art, education, and youth centers, as well as support systems for families. 

Invitation: Community Not Cages invites County Attorney Karin Sonneman and the commissioners to imagine a new way of investing in youth safety and building community commitment to zero youth incarceration, as other communities have.

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