Joint Hennepin/Ramsey juvenile facility—Our youth deserve better

by Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka, Minneapolis NAACP

As we are demanding accountability of law enforcement officials, it is just as critical to demand accountability of the professionals who are tasked with helping youth transition into adulthood. Community members are meeting tonight for a “community engagement session” at the Minneapolis Urban League to discuss just that. Ramsey and Hennepin counties contend that it is in the best interest of youth to spend millions of dollars to build a new secure juvenile facility, but many community members believe that it will be just another prison. It is extremely difficult to believe that with all of the negative publicity Minnesota facilities have received, that another secure placement center is in the best interests of the counties. What happened to the juveniles that went to Mesabi Academy for treatment but were sexually abused? What happened to the youth sexually assaulted by a Boys Totem Town therapist in February? Will these youth return to our communities better or bitter?

The recidivism rate of juveniles in Minnesota is 45%. This is unacceptable. Nearly half of the juveniles released from an out-of-home placement will return to the system. Why would we trust the decision-makers to have the answers at this stage? “Juveniles who are processed into the juvenile justice system, rather than diverted, experience increased recidivism” (Seave, 2011). Our youth need to have opportunities, not imprisonment. We should be utilizing restorative justice practices so that harms can be repaired, rather than sending youth away to experience further trauma. Research shows that the majority of people serving an adult sentence experienced the juvenile justice system during adolescence.

According to the Council on Crime and Justice (2009) report: “Thousands of Minnesota youth are adversely impacted by juvenile delinquency records, and a disproportionate number are youth of color due to the racial disparities in our juvenile justice system. Minnesota’s greatest asset is at risk: we depend upon our youth for a thriving and diverse citizenry and leadership; juvenile delinquency records diminish that potential.” We shouldn’t be investing in facilities based on risk factors and a deficit approach that ignores the skill sets possessed by many of our youth. We should be investing in opportunities based on resiliency factors and a strength approach. Resiliency factors have more predictive power than risk factors. Most of these youth need love, support, and caring relationships with adults.

While our key decision-makers seek to relegate youth to facilities, we’d like to offer a few suggestions:

  1. Provide adequate housing for youth contending with homelessness: The National Council of State Legislatures (2011) reported that between 44 and 46 percent of youth released from confinement were released into unstable housing situations. The Wilder Research Center (2011) found that 46 percent of juveniles between ages 10 and 17 who are currently homeless have previously been in a correctional facility.

  3. Seal juvenile records: The Council on Crime and Justice (2014) reported that juvenile records in Minnesota can be accessed by employers, making it more difficult for youth who have been adjudicated delinquent to find employment.

  5. Invest in prevention strategies: “Youth of color and their communities are often pathologized in a way that creates a narrative about their past, current status, and likelihood of success.” (Lacey, 2013, p. 4). Invest more funds in youth learning their true history! When you know who you are, you can better determine where you are going!!

  7. Invest in people who love children to serve children: “The strengths perspective integrates concepts related to resilience, empowerment, hope, healing, and meaning construction. Rather than focusing on deficits, disease, labels, and problems, social workers acting from the strengths perspective are concerned with resources, connections, skills, and gifts” (Gleason, 2007, p. 52).

  9. End the school-to-prison pipeline: "For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system. This phenomenon is a consequence of a culture of zero tolerance that is widespread in our schools and is depriving many children of their fundamental right to an education" (Elias, 2013).

  10. The community will continue to offer solutions while demanding this project be stopped. Our children will not have a future if we allow them to be warehoused in facilities. “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters—first and foremost—how they behave” (Malcolm Gladwell, David & Goliath). The people spearheading this project are using a crime control model on children who they consider expendable. Come to the Minneapolis Urban League (2100 Plymouth Ave N) tonight from 6-8pm to contribute to the conversation.