An experiment designed to divert teens — especially teens of color — from the juvenile justice system has produced a dramatic decline in detention use, with Minnesota’s Ramsey County reporting a 57 percent drop since 2005 and Hennepin and Dakota counties reporting 33 percent, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative is 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, organizers said.
The three counties are part of an experiment taking place across the nation, in which dozens of communities are offering teens “alternatives” to jail and are closely monitoring the results. The notion of letting more young offenders stay on the streets can make some people uneasy, project leaders acknowledged. Three years into the initiative, counties report no increase in court no-shows, in crimes committed while awaiting a court hearing, or beyond, they said. “Kids need to be held accountable and need services, but why is jail such an integral part of that?” asked Michael Belton, deputy director of juvenile corrections in Ramsey County. “If they’re a public safety or flight risk, sure. But it short-circuits our thinking [on how to rehabilitate them] and cuts off our creativity.”