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

The April topic, the new Youth Justice Council, 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 Defender’s  Office, and Tom Arneson, Manager of the Juvenile Prosecutions Division, HCAO. 

The Youth Justice Council 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 The Annie E. Casey Foundation to help assess what was happening.  In 2005, Reform Juvenile Court Policies, Procedures and Practices led to the creation of the 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.   The Annie E.  Casey Foundation 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 across the country and began the work that led to reducing the numbers.

In 2005 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 little 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 violent juvenile crime was at a peak in Hennepin County.  Later Judge Kappelhoff 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 many different “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, and produce them sooner than the courts systems responses. 

The power point presentation noted these two developments as a result of the JDAI program:

  • 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.

In 2019, probation brought in an outside team of experts from the Robert F. Kennedy Resource Center for Juvenile Justice to conduct an independent review of probation and the Hennepin County Juvenile Court system. After complete its review, the RFK issued a report with its findings and recommendations.

In recent years, as a result of a collaborative effort among the Juvenile Court stakeholders, the number of Out-of-Home Placements have been reduced substantially, as well as the placements of youth out of state have been reduced.  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  African American youth dropped 22%, in Hennepin County, the drop was 53%

From 2014 to 2017

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

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

Kappelhoff: while recent efforts among the juvenile justice stakeholders have produced a dramatic improvement in number of youth in the juvenile justice system, we continue to have a problem with disparities. The juvenile justice stakeholders are committed to addressing these disparities.   With this in mind, the court stakeholders, along with community partners have come together to create and launch the Youth Justice Council.  The Youth Justice Council drafted a charter with 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); and No 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 (Dr. Brittany Lewis), Juvenile Court (Judge Kappelhoff), and the Juvenile Probation Manger (Jerald Moore).  

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:  We are trying to help the youth in our community. With this in mind, we are trying to center youth in the conversation regarding the juvenile justice system and meet them where there are to provide better outcomes 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 number of diversion programs to provide youth services and divert them out of the juvenile justice system. One of those programs is run by Headway, which has shown positive results for the youth who have participated in this program.  The goal is to identify a youth’s needs and to provide the services that will address those needs.

QQ:  When a person has a 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:   Expunging the prior juvenile court records of youth who were in the juvenile justice system can be helpful for the youth as they seek future employment or other opportunities. The Youth Justice Council has a working group to identify and implement ways to improve the expungement process.

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.  In juvenile court, the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, just as in adult court. If the evidence is there, the HCAO will charge them.   Something close to 90% of youth brought to detention on Carjacking offenses ended up being charged.   One issue is that what the attorney’s office sees, is just the tip of the iceberg.   There are many crimes that are not solved and thus do not end up with an arrest or a charge.   But when a youth is arrested for a carjacking offense, they are held in detention until charged and they appear in court. What happens down the road depends on many factors, including the youth’s age, history, and the circumstances of the crime.   We had one case involving an 11-year-old; 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.  A difficulty in explaining the juvenile system to the public is that we often can’t release details about a particular person or case. 

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:   In deciding the detention status of youth, the court uses a “Risk Assessment Instrument” (RAI). This is a validated instrument that ensures that neutral and relevant criteria are used to decide the detention status of youth who are arrested and appear before a judge. The RAI also is validated to ensure that detention decisions are not racially biased.   

CPS Juarez:  What support do you need from the community?   Is there anything we 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.  I want to see that we have people who are connected to the kids, 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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