A project seeking to identify students who are at risk of turning to crime, and offering them help to steer clear of it, took a big step in Ramsey County last week.
In order for the effort to succeed, it’s important to be able to predict juvenile justice involvement, and that task was made easier by the formation of a new joint powers board that will oversee a broad data review.
The board is to include representatives of the county, the city of St. Paul, and the St. Paul and Northeast Metro 916 school districts — all coming together for an initiative that has been nearly four years in the making.
Advocates concerned about the overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal justice system are expected to monitor the effort.
The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office has taken the lead in the project, which coincided with a separate call two years ago for a community task force to promote safe schools. The task force was formed in the wake of increased student-on-staff violence across the county, and among its members was Connie Hayes, superintendent of the Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District.
Last week, Northeast Metro 916 was the last of the four entities to sign onto the joint powers board.
Other districts and cities could join later.
“We are honored to be among the first to begin this important collaboration,” Syreeta Wilkins, a Northeast Metro 916 spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “Our hope is that by working with agencies and families to offer comprehensive, individualized support, and proactive, early interventions, we can empower children and youth to reach their full potential outside of the criminal justice system.”
The project has roots in a $161,847 community innovation grant awarded to the county attorney’s office by the Bush Foundation.
In its 2014 grant application, the office pledged to work with the city of St. Paul and the St. Paul Public Schools to improve the delivery and coordination of services to youth who are at a high risk for delinquency. The application noted that it costs $10,258 per year to educate a child, compared with $48,877 per year to “lock that same child up,” and public funds should go instead to prevention and education.
The attorney’s office planned to engage the community and to also arrange for the sharing of data from multiple jurisdictions.
That data piece now is to be guided by the joint powers board — in partnership with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD). The county is one of two sites nationally that the NCCD has selected to help develop a system to identify the factors contributing to delinquency. The other site is in New York City.
Last month, Laura LaBlanc, a co-founder of InEquality, a coalition advocating police and court reform, urged the St. Paul school board to delay action until questions about data science and stewardship could be answered. She also warned of racial profiling and a stigmatizing of youth targeted for intervention.
The vote that night was unanimous, however, as were those taken by the other government entities.
Erica Schumacher, of the county attorney’s office, told the St. Paul City Council and St. Paul school board that it was possible a community advisory council could be created to assist the governing board.
Meetings of joint powers boards are public under the state’s open meeting law.