Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Do Not Go Directly to Jail

Star Tribune veteran writer Jean Hopfensperger had a great article in yesterday's paper, titled Troubled Teens Take Route Around Jail.

She tells us that Ramsey, Dakota and Hennepin counties are part of an experiment to divert teens who would normally be sent to juvenile detention into counseling and lifestyle change sessions instead.

It's "based on research showing that most young offenders don't need to be jailed to get them to show up in court or keep the streets safe," especially "for lower-risk offenders who enter detention because of truancy, curfew violations and fifth-degree assault."

Before entering the program, each kid is assessed on a sliding scale. From zero to nine, the kid is sent home; a score from 10 to 15 means something more stringent, but less than detention -- house arrest, day treatment or another community-based service. Those with scores 16 and over go into detention.

The counties have been using these assessments for three years, and they report no increase in court no-shows, crimes committed while awaiting hearings, or even later. The sessions described by Hopfensperger combine group discussions and motivational talks with job hunting techniques.

The story ends with a quote from Melvin Carter, a former St. Paul cop who has worked with at-risk teenagers: "We used to think that a boy who came from poverty, a broken home, had been in a gang or used a weapon -- that they were most likely to be the repeat offenders. But if you peel back the onion, the biggest single factor is whether they spent one day in jail."

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