The Star Tribune’s editorial advocating for increased detention for juveniles (“Real consequences for repeat offenders,” Oct. 16) was ill-informed and misleading.

While a few high-profile violent assaults received much attention this summer, the proposed changes by Minneapolis City Council Members Steve Fletcher and Lisa Goodman have nothing to do with such incidents, which already would invoke detention.

The editorial does a great disservice by misleadingly using the term “violent assaults” as part of the justification, when in fact the category up for debate, “fifth degree assaults,” are of such a relatively minor nature that they are only misdemeanors and can be charged even for pushing.

Labeling car thefts as “felonies” is similarly meant to falsely incite a special sense of danger, as the basis of the felony is simply the value of the property stolen; the act itself is not at all an indicator of someone’s greater risk of violence or committing new crimes.

An abundance of research nationwide has determined that the deeper a young person is entered into the juvenile justice system, the greater their risk of mental health problems, school dropout and later criminality. Detention and correctional approaches have proved to be colossal failures in providing helpful intervention for our youth or enhancing public safety. That has been the basis for the effective policy changes over the last several years, and has led to the substantially decreased numbers of youth detained which — fitting the evidence — happens to have coincided with major decreases in juvenile crime over the period.

Reversing course will bring greater risk of future crime, not lesser.

In an imagined world shared by the Star Tribune and some downtown voices, it is presumed that holding a young person in detention teaches a helpful lesson and stops a behavior from being repeated. In the real world, youth misbehavior — any, including crime — has proved to be best resolved not through the threat or execution of a punitive “consequence,” but by restorative and other measures that actually inquire into the young person’s well-being, motivate through new or established relationships, and involve them and their families in supported solutions.

If this is not happening effectively enough at present, then the deficiencies should be addressed without returning to failed strategies that have been well shown to exacerbate deep racial biases and disparities and lead to further harming of public safety.


Michael Friedman is executive director at the Legal Rights Center (