The Minnesota Department of Corrections today suspended new admissions to a juvenile correctional facility on the Iron Range while an investigation into allegations of maltreatment proceeds.
The action was announced today after department officials met earlier with staff members from Mesabi Academy, St. Louis County Child Protection Services and the St. Louis County Attorney's office.
Mesabi Academy agreed to the suspension, corrections deputy commissioner Ron Solheid said in a prepared statement.
"Current operations continue and residents are receiving all programing and educational opportunities consistent with all applicable rule requirements," Solheid said. "Mesabi Academy is cooperating fully and responding positively to recommendations by DOC, Child Protection and the County Attorney's office."
Department officials said they would not discuss the matter further. Their statement did not say what needs to happen before Mesabi Academy can resume accepting placements nor did it detail allegations being investigated.
Mesabi Academy, a 123-bed facility in Buhl, Minn., is licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. It houses boys sent by juvenile courts, by county social services agencies and by parents and guardians.
The agreement comes after the state Department of Human Services and at least four counties removed more than 50 boys from Mesabi Academy in the past week, saying they had concerns about maltreatment allegations. Mesabi Academy parent, KidsPeace, reported 83 boys living at the facility earlier this week, before those residents were removed.
A KidsPeace spokesman said this afternoon the company was cooperating with the state and counties "to investigate all allegations to the fullest extent. We especially look forward to receiving more information from the counties and the DHS on their specific rationale for removing their placed youth over the last several days."
The St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department is investigating Mesabi Academy regarding alleged maltreatment. On Friday, Hennepin County decided to pull 20 boys from the facility. Ramsey County pulled 25 boys out of the facility this week. Beltrami and Clay counties have also pulled children from Mesabi. Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper also announced this week that she was removing five boys from the facility. A Goodhue County van was at Mesabi Academy this morning, but county officials declined to provide details about the two boys it placed there.
Meanwhile, judges in Ramsey and Hennepin Counties have been holding hearings this week to determine where to place the boys who were taken from Mesabi.
Several families told APM Reports that their children were being released on probation. In Hennepin County, a few boys were also allowed to go home but are on electronic home monitoring. Other children are being assessed for placement in another facility.
Some of the boys told APM Reports that they felt like they were treated unfairly by staff, were verbally abused and were put in unnecessary restraints. Eugene Wilson III said he's happy his son is home after spending 10 months at the facility.
"People were telling him, don't ever look back. And I told my son, you better look back. Each chance you get, you look back because I want you to remind yourself that that is not a place that you want to be," he said.