Two Minneapolis City Council members want minors who are repeatedly arrested in connection with violent assaults and car thefts to be held in detention rather than released into diversion programs before their court hearings, as part of a new effort to drive down a disturbing downtown crime wave.
The proposal from Council Member Steve Fletcher and supported by Council Member Lisa Goodman is an apparent reversal from the recent juvenile justice strategies of the city and Hennepin County.
Over the past decade, Minneapolis and Hennepin County have moved toward holding fewer minors at the Juvenile Detention Center and instead pointing them to alternative programs, including those run by the Link, YouthLink and the YMCA. In one of those programs, youths sometimes walk out after waiting for hours to be taken home or placed in a shelter.
In an interview last week, Fletcher said the change is a way to “give police the tools to address some of the stuff that’s happening downtown.”
“What we really want to do is get at a small group of people that are consistently making trouble,” he said. “It’s very frustrating as an officer to arrest somebody for what they view as a serious crime and not have that person held.”
Fletcher said he raised the idea at a recent meeting with Goodman, Mayor Jacob Frey and City Attorney Susan Segal. He said Hennepin County was receptive to the proposal and hopes a change is made quickly.
Although overall crime in Minneapolis is down long term, violent robberies and assaults downtown this summer put business leaders on high alert and attracted the attention of state legislators. Two of those attacks resulted in the arrests of at least 20 people, some of whom were younger than 18.
Currently, minors who are picked up in connection with low-level offenses — including fifth-degree assault — and felony car theft are often sent to the Juvenile Supervision Center, a program run inside City Hall by nonprofit organization the Link. In the first half of this year, 619 youths were taken to the center, more than a quarter of them for curfew violations, according to the Link CEO Beth Holger.
Of those who are taken to the center, about 10 to 13% walk out of the facility as they wait, sometimes for as long as 10 hours, to be connected with a guardian or a shelter, Holger said. Last year, 80 went to the center multiple times, she added.
Last week, Goodman raised concerns about the number of youths who leave the Juvenile Supervision Center unattended and return multiple times. While she was less specific Monday about any potential changes to how Minneapolis police handle minors who are repeatedly picked up for certain offenses, she said sending them to detention “would be a good start.”
“I’m willing to look at all the different interventions that are needed to make downtown safer,” she said. “I don’t think hiring police is the only solution. I’m willing to look at everything, but we need an all-hands-on-deck approach.”
Holger said on Monday that she was wary of pinning the violent attacks that happened downtown to the youths who have gone through the center. She said there is a lack of “safe places” for some youths to go after they’re sent to the center, a reason for why they sometimes walk out.
“We’re happy to work with the county and the city and law enforcement on figuring out some solutions to better serve young people always, but incarceration should kind of be a last resort except for those youth that are violently offending,” she said.
The number of minors held at the Juvenile Detention Center has decreased by 72% since 2005, according to data from the county’s Department of Community Corrections. In 2018, 1,272 youths were taken in by the center.
Fletcher said city officials were worried about “overcorrecting” for the incidents downtown.
“We’ve done a lot of work to prevent mass incarceration of juveniles where we can avoid that path, because it often doesn’t lead to good outcomes down the road,” he said. “Where you can, diversion and other kinds of restorative interventions are better approaches, but sometimes we also have to admit where there are things that you can’t approach that way for public safety reasons.”