The Grand Forks County Juvenile Detention Center has restricted visitor access and will only take felony cases on a case-by-case basis in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The 11-bed facility is a Class 1 detention center, meaning they can hold juveniles for up to 365 days. While normally they accept juveniles from as many as 14 counties, center administrator Bridgie Hansen said only Grand Forks County juveniles will be admitted unless it's absolutely necessary to take someone from out-of-county.

There are presently four children in custody at the detention center. The center also employs 10 full-time workers and eight part-time workers. As part of the precautions taken against a coronavirus outbreak in the center, all visitation has been canceled, including family, volunteers and program administrators. In the interim, Hansen said phone visitation has been expanded.

As center staff members exercise caution and practice social distancing, they know a positive COVID-19 case in the facility is within the realm of possibility - one juvenile in the facility tested negative for the virus about two weeks ago.

Hansen said that, while it's impossible for them to close the doors completely, restricting intakes will protect the residents as much as possible. According to the CDC, while children are considered low-risk for suffering complications or needing hospitalization because of the virus, they still could potentially spread the virus to someone who is high-risk.

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"Kids are carriers," Hansen said. "That's why social distancing is so important, that's why, if we have to take anybody into our facility, they should be kids that really, seriously need to be there, that are serious offenders."

If there were an outbreak in the facility, Hansen said the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has advised that any staff member suspected to have come into contact with an infected person would be instructed to shelter in place inside the facility. Hansen said that would be a worst-case scenario.

A DOCR spokesperson told the Herald she would defer further questions about the shelter-in-place policy to the state's director of juvenile services, who could not be reached for comment by this publication's press deadline.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum recommended detention centers throughout the state restrict access last week amid a series of other executive orders to close or limit other community services. Hansen said she advised the Grand Forks County commissioners at their emergency meeting Friday, March 20, that she would limit the number of intakes the juvenile detention center received.

Low-level offenders who might normally go to the juvenile detention center will instead be held at the attendant care site run by Lutheran Social Services in Grand Forks, Hansen said. The site, which can hold juveniles for up to 96 hours, is a frequent first stop for many of the children who normally go to the detention center.

"Bottom line is, if a police officer says they have to go to detention, because there's no other place for them to go or they're a threat to themselves or their family or their family won't take them, those are the kids we take," Hansen said. "But at this time, we're trying to keep those kids at the attendant care site."

But with school canceled and residents being instructed to keep their families at home, Hansen said she wouldn't be surprised if the attendant care site sees an influx of children coming from domestic fights and similar situations.

The Northeast Central Judicial District last week postponed all non-emergency court dates, but juvenile cases are one of the exceptions to that order. Juvenile court cases are still being heard either in the courthouse or via telephone.

Ultimately, Hansen said the most important measure they have taken is instructing the staff not to leave their homes unless coming to work or going to the stores, and she expects it will remain that way long-term.

"United we stand and divided we fall," she said. "We've got to follow all the rules and make sure we're doing what we do best."

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