Juvenile Justice Official’s Advice: Compliment Kids


Frank Hosch, 56, is retiring as deputy director of the Ramsey County, Mn., juvenile division, the kind of public-service work that is largely unheralded, overlooked, and misunderstood, says St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. Some say he has helped turn a once mostly punitive, if largely ineffective, juvenile corrections system into one that has bucked national juvenile recidivism rates. More than 70 percent of juvenile offenders who went through the agency’s Totem Town center in recent years did not reoffend within a year after discharge, compared with about 45 percent nationally.

What doesn’t work? “That whole scared-straight, boot-camp mentality,” Hosch said. “It’s kind of B.S. It makes us (adults) feel good. You can piss (the kids) off. But most come back six months to a year later. I would rather not have them come back pissed off. I would rather have them coming back caring about the community.” What works? Hosch gives credit in part to community-policing strategies adopted by police more than a decade go. Juvenile-justice officials became more open in embracing well-grounded research that favored a more positive approach than warehousing kids who run afoul of the law. “If you are going to be effective, and this is borne out by research, give out four compliments to every one criticism,” Hosch said. “That’s what moves kids. You can sit there and be critical all day long, but you are not going to get any place. The real meat in moving kids is to point out what they are doing right. If you want to be critical, then point out how they can do it differently.

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