Editorial Roundup: Repairing gaps in state’s juvenile justice system

Published 8:49 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

In Minnesota, there aren’t enough appropriate places to send juvenile offenders — especially those who experience trauma and mental health problems.

Some accused of crimes are offered spots in diversion programs to help get them back on track, but others don’t get that same opportunity. And oversight and coordination of the programs provided through the state’s counties are woefully lacking.

Those are among many problems revealed in the Star Tribune investigative news report “Juvenile Injustice.” The five-part series documented how the quality of youth rehabilitation programs varies from county to county and how little oversight exists to help determine what works and doesn’t. It illustrated how important it is for the state and counties to provide safe and effective options for young people.

Email newsletter signup

That’s why a group of Minnesota DFL lawmakers is rightly recommending significant legislative changes that would correct some of those flaws. They hope to devote a portion of the state’s $17.6 billion surplus to intervention programs to redirect kids out of criminal activity.

Among the proposals is creating a state Office of Juvenile Restorative Justice that would promote, coordinate and measure community-based approaches to youth crime. That office could help move Minnesota closer to having some of the programs that have proven successful in Colorado, as pointed out in the Star Tribune series.

During the past seven years, more than 1,300 young people in Colorado have been sent to rigorous restorative justice programs where they meet face to face with those they’ve harmed. According to a state study, fewer than 10% committed another crime within a year after completion. By comparison, the re-offense rate for young people on juvenile probation in Colorado is 16%.

Minnesota Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, is the vice chair of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee and the main author of the proposals. She said the state needs a “more equitable and responsive juvenile justice system than the one we currently have — which clearly is not working.”

And DFL Senate President Bobby Joe Champion said he is working on a bill to address problems with Minnesota’s extended youth probation system. Children can be placed on extended probation until their 21st birthday or for as long as seven years. The system was created in the early 1990s as an alternative to incarceration for those who commit repeat violent crimes. It’s become known as a “back door” to prison because it ensnares teens who would not usually qualify for adult criminal sentences.

About half of the 1,335 Minnesota young people placed on extended probation since 2011 have had that status revoked and criminal sentences imposed, according to a Star Tribune analysis of court data. Champion wants to “modernize” the program. Instead of sending young people to prison for technical probation violations, the system should do more to get at the root causes of their behaviors.

As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously argued, it’s critical for the state and counties to provide safe, effective options for young people in the system. There must be an adequate commitment of resources and programs that not only punish but rehabilitate — something other than sending offenders to their communities without support or moving them into out-of-state or adult facilities.

The DFL proposals hold promise to address the flaws in Minnesota’s current patchwork of juvenile justice rules. They merit support as they move through the legislative process this session to create a more equitable and effective way to handle the state’s child and teen offenders.

— Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 18

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

email author More by Editorial