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Western Iowa County Agrees To House Out-Of-State Native Americans In Its Juvenile Detention Center

A western Iowa county has agreed to use space in its juvenile detention center to house a South Dakota tribe’s troubled youth.
Under the agreement, Woodbury County’s juvenile detention center will provide beds, meals and clothing to youth from the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. The tribe will pay the county $150 per day per youth.

While Iowa's various juvenile detention centers can contact each other to move children around if their buildings are near capacity, Woodbury County has several contracts with out-of-state tribes that don’t have a closer available resource. The populations tend to fluctuate.

“There are years where we have very large numbers and years where we have small numbers,” said Ryan Weber, who runs the Woodbury County center. “You can look at it two ways – either they’re not committing crimes or they’re not getting locked up.”

Woodbury County has 21 juvenile beds. Weber said seven were occupied Tuesday and two of the youth were Native American. The population can change daily.

Weber says his staff will work to help the youth from the South Dakota tribe. Most of the center’s population tends to be repeat offenders.

“We have kids here whose parents were here when they were young and it’s just over and over. Somebody along the line needs to step up and if they need to get away from the family to do so sometimes this might help get them out of that environment, just to see that there’s another way in life," Weber said.

After the county’s Board of Supervisors voted to approve the contract Tuesday, they discussed that in the past, they’ve budgeted for the projected number of juveniles from tribes spending time in the center, but revenue from a contract with one tribe was down last year. They're hopeful that revenue from the contract with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe will help contribute to the budget.

The revenue will go into the city's general fund and will help offset taxpayer costs for the center.

In an interview after the meeting, Chairman Rocky De Witt acknowledged that although it’s disappointing that revenue numbers from last year are down, it also could mean some of the youth are staying out of trouble.

“[It’s] kind of a double-edge sword,” De Witt said. “…It’s a revenue negative entity but it does help pay the bills up there. It offsets what the county has to pay.”

In addition to highlighting the daily costs to the tribe and Woodbury County’s responsibility of providing food, clothes and beds, the agreement lays out that the tribe will be responsible for transporting its youth to medical treatment and psychiatric evaluations and paying for those costs, as well as providing the county with court orders for the juveniles.

Woodbury County is responsible for providing crisis counseling, educational and recreational services and allowing immediate families to visit with their teens.  

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe did not return a request for comment.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.