Slightly more than 1,200 minors were picked up by Minneapolis police last year and taken to the Juvenile Supervision Center at City Hall. Of that total, about 80 landed in JSC multiple times for violating laws ranging from curfew violations to felony car theft to fifth-degree assault.
It’s an even smaller number of that group that a pair of Minneapolis City Council members wisely want to keep in custody longer. Rather than almost immediately sending repeaters back onto downtown streets or releasing them to diversion programs before their court hearings, they want them held in the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center first.
It’s a smart strategy to have more serious and restrictive consequences for the relatively small number of minors who repeatedly violate laws and cause trouble in the city. Those young people need either more social service help, longer-term detention or both to break their repeat-offender patterns.
Council Member Steve Fletcher proposed the change with support from his colleague Lisa Goodman. They represent parts of downtown that have seen a disturbing increase in crime. They’re suggesting that those under 18 who are repeatedly arrested in connection with car thefts and violent assaults go to detention rather than diversion programs they can leave at any time.
Fletcher told an editorial writer that the city has identified at least 10 minors who police have arrested five or more times for lower-level assaults and thefts. Those teens know that the Juvenile Supervision Center doesn’t have the authority to hold them to wait for parents, guardians or a referral, so they just walk out.
“Our officers have sometimes picked up these individuals 10, 15 times only to have them walk out of JSC right away,” Fletcher said. “It’s frustrating for our officers to make those arrests for serious crimes and not have those people held. … We need to give police the tools to address some of the stuff that’s happening downtown.”
The council members want Hennepin County to agree to accept the repeat offenders. Then county officials can determine whether to hold them before their court appearances or find an appropriate placement. Fletcher said county officials were receptive and that he hopes the change is made soon.
Some downtown business operators support the plan because they say they see some of the same minors creating problems. Joanne Kaufman, executive director of the Warehouse District Business Association, says her members are frustrated that the same teens they’ve reported and had picked up by police are back on the street hours later.
At the same time, the council members and businesspeople recognize the need to keep young people out of the juvenile justice system if possible. They are not rejecting the decadelong strategy of directing more minors to the Juvenile Supervision Center and successful alternative programs such as those run by the Link, YouthLink and the YMCA. According to county data, the number of minors held at the Juvenile Detention Center has decreased by 72% since 2005.
Yet as Fletcher said, “Where you can, diversion and other kinds of restorative interventions are better approaches. But we also have to admit that something has to be done to break the cycle of repeat crimes that have victims.”