Results of two juvenile justice initiatives

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman Tuesday announced the results of two initiatives which have significantly reduced the number of youth who are being sent through the juvenile court system.

Standing in front of the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center and the adjacent Juvenile Justice Center, Freeman said it was obvious that the best thing prosecutors could do was keep as many youths as possible out of those two buildings.

“Many juvenile do dumb things,” Freeman said. “That is the nature of being a teenager. But, committing a low-level crime should not follow you the rest of your life. And while most juvenile records are supposed to be nonpublic, there are plenty of people who can get access. As can hackers.”

One way to prevent that was to convince principals from all schools in Hennepin County to send only their more serious cases to the county attorney’sJuvenile Prosecution Division. Less serious incidents, such as smoking, minor damage and shoving matches, should be handled by school officials.

The result is that in the 2006-2007 school year, 2,513 cases were sent from schools to the juvenile prosecution division. In the 2017-2018 year, the number plummeted to 728, a decline of 71 percent. And while the final numbers are not in for the just completed year, it looks like that number will be down again.

“If there ever was a school to prison pipeline in Hennepin County this hard work…has ruptured that pipeline,” Freeman said.

Another initiative targets juveniles who commit crimes unrelated to school. Again, Freeman said it doesn’t make sense to give an 11 to 17 year old a permanent record for underage drinking or a minor fistfight or shoplifting. Instead, the county attorney’s office offers diversion instead of filing charges.

“It’s not a get-out-of-jail free card,” said Corey Harland of the Headway Diversion program.

Instead, when the county attorney’s office refers juveniles to Headway, Harland and others do a one-hour intake interview. They learn what is going on with the youth at school and at home and what was going on the day he or she violated the law. They then discuss ways, such as restitution, apologies, or other methods, to bring accountability.

“The youth takes ownership and leadership,” Harland said of the diversion option. “Our shared goal is to make sure they are successful.”

In 2017, one-third of the cases that came into the Juvenile Prosecution Division were recommended for diversion. That is 2,045 cases recommended for diversion out of the 6,072 total cases. Freeman said his office wants to continue improving the diversion program.

“One of the things that we are continuing to work on is to spread the word about diversion,” Freeman said. “We want to educate people about the benefits of diversion and keeping a young person’s record clean.”

Press conference video