April report, part 1: Keeping kids on track and out of trouble

The April topic, the new Youth Justice Division, was presented by Judge Mark Kappelhoff, 4th Judicial District.   Judge Kappelhoff has extensive experience in the U.S.  Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division, prosecuting cases of human trafficking, police misconduct, and hate crimes.   He was joined by  Adesola Oni, Hennepin County Juvenile Probation, Lisa McNaughton, managing attorney for the Juvenile Court Division, Public Attorney’s Office, and Tom Arneson, Manager of the Juvenile Prosecutions Division, HCAO. 

The Youth Justice Division is a collaborative effort among stakeholders, community members and law enforcement.    They are committed to creating an equitable, fair and effective justice system that produces positive outcomes for youth, for their families and for their communities, which improves public safety. 

Their mission statement:  “To improve and reform the juvenile justice system by eliminating the unnecessary  use of secure detention, eliminating disparities based on race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and providing resources to create effective community-based and culturally appropriate  services for youth and their families.”

The initiative is based on past events in the Hennepin County Courts Systems.   Hennepin County brought in Annie E. Casey Deep End Initiative  to help assess what was happening.  In 2005, Reform Juvenile Court Policies, Procedures and Practices led to Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) 

Adesola Oni:   The late 1990s was a time when, all across the U.S., juvenile crime was rising in numbers, and much of it was violent crime.  All across the United States, youth were being locked up for any number of offenses.     Professionals began to challenge courts to look at what they were doing to youth and what they hoped to gain from it. They found evidence of an over-reliance on detention and institutional responses.   Eventually, they created JDAI, which looked at some of the sites and began the work that led to reducing the numbers.

In Hennepin County:

  • About 100 youth per day were put in detention.   As many as 500 youth were in out-of-home placement,   Annual numbers were over 4000 juveniles in detention in a system that didn’t have enough space for that many people.   People were put into detention just to ensure they’d show up for a hearing, as well as those who actually posed a safety risk.
  • There were significant racial disparities  in detention and outcomes, 
  • There was insufficient community or evidence-based programming,
  • There were inconsistent standards for detention/out-of-home placements,
  • There was inadequate data collection, collaboration, analysis,
  • There was insufficient  family and community engagement.

The JDAI Key Reform Objectives were to

  • Reduce reliance on secure confinement,
  • Reduce racial and ethnic disparities,
  • Redirect resources to effective community-based  and culturally appropriate  services for youth and their families,
  • Enhance collaboration among court & community partners.

Atty. McNaughton commented that, years ago, when she went into the center, she’d see kids sleeping on pallets on the floor because that was the only space they had.  JDAI made attorneys  consider how thoughtful they were being about the kids, and to reconsider how they were processing their judgment.  Atty. Arneson added that in 2005 Hennepin County saw a lot of violent youth activity, but attorneys were using detention as a deterrent when that was not necessary.  Later Judge Kapplehoff commented that today, a portion of the Juvenile facility is not being used because of the substantial reduction in population. 
JDAI Results: 

  • 80% decrease in numbers of youth admitted to JDC.   From 4,500 to 908 (2005-2020)
  • 65% decrease in average daily population at JDC. From 95 to 33 (2005-2020)  The 2021 daily population has dropped to the teens!
  • 64% decrease in Out of Home Placements for youth in DOCCR (2009-2020)   

Results  of Reform Efforts in Hennepin County:

Arneson:  “Diversion” is a  broad topic; it involves keeping kids out of the Juvenile Justice System at any point including pre-charge.  Hennepin County has had a Diversion Program that goes back to the 1990’s but that has been substantially expanded in the last five years.  Today, the county has 11 different “formal diversion pathways” that can take place before a youth enters the Juvenile Justice system or commits a chargeable offense. 

  • It can be having a different response to kids’ behaviors in school.  Not everything that happens in school calls for a police response.
  • It can be having formal diversion programs, like restorative justice programs.  The HCAO works with programs in the community that are based on accountability for behavior.  This may start with intervention as a response, trying to address what is behind the behavior so it doesn’t happen again.    We’ve seen nationally and locally that diversion can produce better results,  sooner than the courts systems responses. 
  • HCAO reinvested funds no longer needed to support the reduced jailed populations into community-based services for youth.  This was a 93% increase to over $4,446,000 by 2017.
  • By 2017, 63% of youth desisted from crime in the two years following  their probation start.

Results of Out-of-Home Placement redesign efforts which spurred in 2009 by the Annie E. Casey Deep End Initiative.   Results were also evaluated by the Robert F. Kennedy Children Actions Corps:
O-H placements have also gone down dramatically, nationally and in Hennepin County.   This is the result of realizing that moving youth out of their home and community severed their ties to family and community support,   Planners also considered that youth would be returning to their communities at some point.

From 2012 to 2017

  • National levels for all youth in the U.S. dropped 25%, in Hennepin County that drop was 54%
  • National levels for  A-A. youth dropped 22%, in Hennepin County, the drop was 53%

From 2014 to 2017

  • National all youth dropped 8%, which matched the A.-A. drop, nation-wide.
  • In Hennepin County, all youth dropped 42%, and A.-A, dropped 45%

From 2016-Q1 to 2020-Q4, O-H placements dropped from 195 to 73, including placements in Greater MN, Hennepin County and out of state. 

Kappelhoff: while JDAI has shown a dramatic improvement in numbers, we also have an issue of disparity in other issues of the Juvenile Justice System.  We think and know we can do better and invite the community to join the courts in these efforts.  An independent group was brought in several years ago to look at disparities, and suggested steps to take our improvements to the next level.  In response, the Youth Justice Council was created.   It is based on the following core principles:

  • Promoting and enhancing community safety through a lens of recognizing, and investing in the strengths of youth, their families and their communities, while ensuring access to resources and opportunities;
  • Decisions regarding who should be held in secure detention will be based on objective criteria and a validated Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI); andNo youth shall be disparately impacted at any stage  of the juvenile justice system, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability;

The Youth Justice Council is chaired by representatives from the Humphrey Institute, Juvenile Court (Kappelhoff), and a Juvenile Probation manager.  

The executive steering committee consists of representatives from HCAO, the Public Defender’s Office, a Community Representative, Juvenile Probation, DOCCR Administration, District Court, Human Services, Sub-Committee Chairs and Juvenile Facilities. 

Reporting directly to the steering committee is the Youth Justice Council Workgroups, Committees and Governance Coordination (Adesola Oni). 

Four focus sub-committees include: Eliminating Racial Disparities, Assessment Tool Workgroup, Underserved Youth Committee,  the Youth Advisory Board (which includes 6 youth representatives.   These subcommittees are now meeting quarterly, the next meetings will be on June 9, September 8, December 8.
Eliminating Racial Disparities:  This is a place where representatives from county and city governments, law enforcement, the judiciary, HCAO, public defense, public education, philanthropy, community youth serving agencies, community advocates, parents and youth work together to eliminate ethnic and racial disparities in Hennepin County.   Open to the public.  FFI  contact:

Youth Advisory Board: This sub-committee advocates for positive change in the Hennepin County Justice System providing support for initiatives to improve the support and outcome of youth in the juvenile justice system and to prevent more youth from entering the justice system.    FFI contact:

Underserved Youth Committee:  Addresses disparities of treatment of underserved  and vulnerable youth in the justice system, including LGBTQ+, youth who have been trafficked or exploited, girls, youth experiencing instability, homelessness,  mental health issues, and others with complex needs.   For information and to participate contact:

The Youth Justice Council website is found at https://www.hennepin.us/residents/public-safety/youth-justice-council


QQ:   It seems like you are working to take negative labels off kids.  
Kappelhoff:  That is a way of putting it.   It’s trying to meet kids where they are and to change what got them there, redirect to a better outcome for them. 
McNaughton:  Yes about the labels, and it’s about dealing with trauma.
QQ:  A successful MPD Community Outreach Program, Bike Cops for Kids, discovered that a majority of the youth sentenced to Red Wing were from Minneapolis, so BCFK had a program that involved spending a day just hanging out with the boys.   One of the things the Bike Cops discovered is that many/most of the boys there “Had no path” for their future.    Is this lack of path/plan/life-goals something you are addressing directly.

Kappelhoff: We have a program called Headway, where if a charge may be dismissed, or if they get in the program, they may never be charged.   Again, it’s an attempt to get them the services they need to re-direct their lives.  The goal is to discover a youth’s needs and to provide the services that will redress those needs.
QQ:  When a person has an Police record, that is a public record, and it is available to anyone who wants to look for it.   That is a huge burden.   Is there anything that is going on that will “lift” that label from a person?
Kappelhoff:   There is a means of expunging a youth’s record.   It’s complicated, but this is a result of a change in the law from 3, 4 years ago that improved the Minnesota expungement law, both on the juvenile and on the adult side.

CPS Juarez:  Attending community meetings, it seems that people are talking about people getting back on the streets so soon after committing a crime. Is there something you can offer to let people know how the system works. 
Arneson: When a youth has committed [for example] a car-jacking and is caught, they are taken into detention.   If the police have made a good case, the HCAO will charge them.   Something like 90% of those cases end up being charged.   One issue is that what the attorney’s office sees, is just the tip of the iceberg.   There are a lot more crimes being committed that the public hears about but they never make it to a charge.   On the adult side, there are a LOT of cases that are not solved and so can’t be charged.   On the youth side, if they have not displayed a model of violent behavior, they are not going to be held.  What happens down the road depends on that youth, their history, that particular crime.   It also depends on the age of the youth.   We have 11-year-olds in the system and they will be treated differently than a 17-year-old who has a significant record.   We can and have asked that a 17-year-old be tried in adult court, because the older youth has a series of cases or more serious cases.  Part of the difficulty in explaining this to the public is that we can’t release details about a particular person. 
McNaughton:  Some people get confused about terms, car theft  vs car jacking, for example.   Law professionals have to be very careful how we describe these situations. 
QQ:  Is there any “presumptive” measure to determine the risk of releasing a juvenile — as number of similar incidents, that would figure in holding or not holding?

Kappelhoff:   There is a “risk assessment” which is a validated score that includes “nature of event”, “number of previous events”  and other factors.   This assessment score helps inform the judge whether a person should or should not be detained.  There are a variety of restrictions that can be placed on a release, also. 

CPS Juarez:  What support do you need from the community?   Is there anything he can ask from the public that would make the courts’ jobs easier?  How can community members step up, take on a bigger role to support your work.
McNaughton:   I want to see that our programs are vibrant and working for our kids — that we have people who are connected, and who are sure these programs work for them.  That would be family members, community members, teachers, anyone who knows these kids.   

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