Following an unruly summer downtown, Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials struggled with what to do about a small group of young troublemakers accused of stealing cars and beating strangers.
Leaders now believe they have found solutions to keep those youths from committing more crimes without putting them in detention.
Next year, a criminal justice committee will work to create a center where minors would be held until a social worker can take charge of them. Previously, they were sent to an unsecured center in City Hall where some walked away.
The juvenile court system will also expedite the arraignments of youth charged with car theft to reduce the chance they’ll pick up additional charges.
The strategies are different from what Council Member Steve Fletcher proposed earlier this year, which would have sent youth repeatedly arrested with assault or car theft to detention before their initial hearings. Fletcher is now leading the work on the new center with the county’s Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Catherine Johnson.
“We identified a problem, and the county came through with better solutions. That’s exactly what we want to see happen,” Fletcher said Monday.
Over the last several years, the county has relied less on its Juvenile Detention Center and instead pointed youth toward community programs. However, in late summer, the number of kids held in detention reached its highest number in three years, Johnson said.
“We really don’t want to hold kids there that ultimately are that low-risk, because what the research tells us is that by holding them in detention we actually make them worse,” she said.
Fletcher and other council members raised concerns about the Juvenile Supervision Center, where hundreds of minors were taken after being picked up for low-level offenses, mainly curfew violations. Because the facility was low-security, some youths would leave as they waited for hours for shelter beds or guardians.
The new facility, which Fletcher and Johnson are calling the Juvenile Assessment Center, would be a “middle ground” for those youth.
“One of the biggest differences is figuring out how we not make it a detention center, but also make sure that the kids stay long enough to get connected with the resources,” Johnson said. “The idea is to create a space that we’re not going to let you leave, but it’s not a detention center. And that’s the balance that’s difficult to master.”
The criminal justice committee will discuss the potential location and funding for the center next year. It will also study similar centers in Colorado and Florida, Johnson said.
Starting in January, judges will speed up the initial court hearings for minors charged with car theft to happen within three days, said Hennepin District Judge Mark J. Kappelhoff, who is leading the effort. Normally they would have to wait anywhere from 30 to 60 days, he said, leading a small group to commit other offenses in the meantime.
“We need to do something before that child gets two or three or four additional charges before his first court appearance,” Kappelhoff said.
More than 50 minors a day were held in the detention center in late summer, Johnson said. It included some who were involved in a violent robbery near Target Field, Johnson wrote in a Star Tribune editorial.
Those numbers have since gone down to about 35 a day, she said.
Downtown has been “happily quiet” since those assaults put business owners, residents and clubgoers on high alert, Fletcher said.
“After a really tough end of summer, we had the safest September we’ve had in seven years,” he said. “There’s reason to think that a combination of [police] and some of the community resources that we’ve put into the entertainment district are starting to have the impact that we want them to have.”
Beth Holger, CEO of the Link, the organization that runs the Juvenile Supervision Center, said she was happy to see the shift away from putting more children in detention.
“I think that some of those City Council members are getting more education around how the criminal justice system works, which is good,” she said. “I am very happy that the conversation is shifting toward what else we can do for these youth in the community versus trying to accuse youth of crimes they didn’t commit.”
The criminal justice committee will meet on Jan. 23, where Johnson said they are expected to discuss the new center.