- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Hennepin County officials said they are removing 20 children from a northern Minnesota correctional facility for boys amid concerns whether the privately-run center is following proper channels in reporting allegations of maltreatment.

The metro county announced the immediate action Friday. The children from Hennepin County were put into vans and driven back to the Twin Cities from Mesabi Academy in Buhl late in the day.

“Hennepin County and the Fourth Judicial District Court are aware of the concerns raised about Mesabi. At this time, Hennepin County and the Fourth Judicial District believe this decision is in the best interest of these youth from Hennepin County,” the county said in a statement.

Earlier in the week Ramsey County said it is putting a moratorium on placing any more children in need of protection in the facility. Ramsey County’s probation department also is reviewing the status of 21 boys who were sent to Mesabi Academy by a judge after committing criminal activity.

The academy’s parent company, KidsPeace, said the center provides a safe and caring environment.

“We absolutely reject any allegation or insinuation that our dedicated and incredibly hard-working staff has acted in any way against the well-being of youth in our care, or that anyone associated with Mesabi Academy does not have the safety of these young people as their highest priority,” KidsPeace spokesman Robert Martin said in a statement. Martin said KidsPeace is willing to continue discussions with Hennepin County.

Both counties’ moves come after APM Reports (http://bit.ly/1NmYcNG ), an investigative and documentary unit of American Public Media, reported that Mesabi Academy didn’t alert St. Louis County authorities to three allegations of sex abuse last year. Hennepin County officials also were critical of the effectiveness of Mesabi’s programming and treatment.

Hennepin County had 16 juvenile delinquents and four children at Mesabi placed through the human services department. The county is one of Mesabi’s biggest customers, occupying about a quarter of the 83 residents placed at the 123-bed facility last week.

In response last week to questions from APM Reports, Mesabi Academy said that it believes it has followed all applicable laws related to the child protection investigation in St. Louis County.

The academy houses and treats boys who are sent from juvenile courts, social service agencies and parents.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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