Drug courts: An alternative to the war on drugs?

Miami built their first drug court almost 25 years ago as an alternative way to combat the rapid increase in cocaine-related crimes. It worked so well that by 1996, Minnesota followed suit, and now the state is expanding the program.Following a 2013 Minnesota Legislature funding increase, the Minnesota Judicial Council authorized the addition of six new drug courts in Minnesota last month, bringing the state’s total number to 44 courts serving 56 counties. And officials say the addition will help keep offenders from falling back into the system and save the state money when compared to traditional incarceration.“What [the researchers] found was if someone was sentenced to treatment [by a traditional court], most defendants didn’t even show up, and the ones who did dropped out,” said state drug court coordinator Jim Eberspacher. “If you don’t supervise the person and continue to provide services, the likelihood of them continuing down a path to sobriety is minimal.  Drug courts attempt to provide all the services necessary to keep the person on the right path.”A 2012 state-wide evaluation compared 500 drug court participants to nearly 650 similar offenders who did not participate in the drug court program. Over the two and a half year study, drug court participants had a 17 percent recidivism rate compared to 32 percent of those who didn’t participate – almost a 50 percent reduction. Continue Reading

Midtown Farmers Market, transit-oriented development dominate discussion of site redevelopment at Corcoran Land Use and Housing meeting

The future of the 6.5 acre parcel of land at the corner of Lake Street and 22nd Avenue was once again up for discussion at the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization’s Land Use and Housing meeting on April 3.  Despite the snowstorm, community members and county representatives filled the room and voiced their visions and concerns for the land. A  private development company, L&H Station Development, hopes to purchase the land, which is currently owned by Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS.)  The future of the Midtown Farmer’s Market was a big concern for many of the community members in attendance.  The rendering that L&H developer Jack Boarman presented showed a new permanent location for the market on the east side of the property, but a little further back from Lake Street than it is now.  Miguel Goebel, the manager of the market, voiced his concern that this would create reduced visibility and attract fewer customers.The planned housing developments were another topic of discussion among community members.  Many people wanted to ensure that there would be affordable housing available to people in the community, so that the spaces would not invite gentrification.  Boarman explained that of the roughly 450 housing units the new property would include, many would be specifically designed affordable family or senior housing.  He also plans to keep rent low by offering many one-bedroom apartments that are under 700 square feet, with the rest being leased at market price.Attendees also heard from MPS Chief Operating Officer Robert Doty, who made clear that the successful relocation of the services housed in the school building on the site is the top priority for MPS when considering the sale. These include Adult Basic Education and Transition Plus programs, He said that MPS is considering different options, including relocation or staying on the property in a new building, but it is certain that those services will continue to exist for the community.Newly elected Ninth Ward City Councilmember Alondra Cano spoke briefly at the meeting.  “I wanted to talk about this project as an issue of equity,” Cano said.  She emphasized the importance of input from citizens when considering the future of their community, because, “If we don’t do it, someone else will do it for us.”Boarman spoke for a good portion of the meeting about what the L&H developers envision the site becoming. Continue Reading

Prairie Fire Lady Choir closes season at Cedar Cultural Center

UPDATED 12/6/2013 • It’s hard to find time to pursue your hobbies when you have a job and a family as well, but the women of the Prairie Fire Lady Choir do just that. In 2010 Annette Schiebout had not been in a choir since college and was looking for a place to sing again. With a group of like-minded women, she became part of the original Prairie Fire Lady Choir. “We all wanted to be rock stars, but knew we couldn’t pursue that,” Schiebout said. The group started small, meeting in each other’s living rooms to rehearse at first. Their first performance was on the Mississippi Megalops, as part of the May 2011 Northern Spark Festival. Continue Reading

Twin Cities Sneaker Art Xchange 2 in Minneapolis

Sneaker collectors and music fans gathered at the Twin Cities Sneaker Art Xchange 2 on October 27.  A packed crowd browsed the tables of sneakers and art for sale while listening to music performances by Minneapolis artists at the Cabooze.The event was sponsored by Studiiyo23, a funky clothing and art store in Uptown, and hosted by Chris Styles of KMOJ’s Tite at Nite.  The music was provided by DJ Enferno and featured live performances by The Lioness, BdotCroc, and Greg Grease, among others. Continue Reading

In North Minneapolis, Target discusses hiring practices

“Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” said Justin Terrell, the Justice 4 All program manager at TakeAction Minnesota.  Terrell spoke to a full house of over 400 people at the Capri Theater on October 24, where he hosted a panel discussion about the importance of closing the racial jobs gap in Minnesota.  He said that Minnesota currently leads the nation in this gap.  The focus of the event was to have a discussion with a representative from Target, Jim Rowader, about what Target’s role in working to fix the racial jobs gap should be.But, Terrell insisted, “Tonight is not about Target coming to the rescue…This is about us.  We are the solution our community has been waiting for, no one else is coming.”  The Northside community in Minneapolis has already taken the lead with this issue, organizing the first meeting with a Target representative to discuss their hiring practices in two years.  Rowader announced that Target would be ‘banning the box’ on its applications nationally for the first time.  ‘Ban the box’ legislation passed earlier this year in Minnesota, which will require employers to remove the question asking about an applicant’s criminal history (though the question still can be asked during interviews. Minnesota is only the third state to pass such a law, but Target pledged to remove the question in all states.Kandace Montgomery described the difficulties faced by people with criminal records seeking employment, and said, “We have a system that doesn’t actually give people a fair second chance.”  Montgomery, an organizer for the Jusice 4 All campaign, was among the many who shared their personal stories of how Minnesota’s racial jobs gap has affected them.  “[My] Dad was in and out of prison…I believed that my dad was the bad guy, it wasn’t til later in life that I realized that wasn’t true,” Montgomery said. Continue Reading

BOOK REVIEW | Eleanor & Park: What’s the fuss about?

When I read Rainbow Rowell’s novel Eleanor & Park, I thought it was a wonderfully written account of a year in the life of two sixteen-year-old misfits in Omaha, Nebraska. Later, when I heard that it was being challenged by the Anoka-Hennepin School District, I could not begin to understand why. When Rowell came to speak at a community event at the Avalon school in St. Paul on October 30, I talked with her about the book before her main speech.Eleanor & Park rings true to teen life. Anybody who was not lucky enough to have a parent or friend give them a ride to school knows the delicate situation that is finding a seat on the school bus. Continue Reading

Keith Ellison rallies furloughed workers

Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison hosted a rally for furloughed federal employees in Minneapolis on October 7.  More than 19,000 Minnesotans work for the federal government and have felt the effects of the shutdown.“The bottom line is that this shutdown is wrong, that this shutdown was planned,” Ellison said.  Ellison was joined by numerous Minnesota federal employees who told their stories about how the shutdown had affected them.  Vicky Sirovy, President of the American Federation of Government Employees local 1969, reminded the audience that, “These are not just federal employees.  This is your mother, your sister, your uncle.”Ellison also talked about the Affordable Care Act, saying, “Republicans don’t dislike the Affordable Care Act because they think it won’t work, it’s because they think it will, and they fear that.”  He called out Republican Congressmen and women for choosing to go the route of the shutdown, “Instead of saying we agree with the Supreme Court, we agree with the legislative process, we agree with the American voters.”Jon Frasz was among the community members who attended the rally.  “I believe in this system and what these people are doing is sabotaging it.  If we’re not engaged in this we don’t have a democracy,” Frasz said.  He was not alone in calling for action from citizens.  Ellison and the other speakers encouraged everybody to call their congressmen and remind them that they work for us.  Frasz points to a quote that he heard (but could not recall the speaker) that sums up his belief about politics, “Participation in the rights of democracy requires participation in the responsibilities.” This is one of a number of articles produced by student interns at the TC Daily Planet.Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation. Continue Reading

St. Paul school board candidates discuss achievement gap

St. Paul school board candidates discussed the achievement gap between white students and students of color at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center on October 17. According to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), the current proficiency rate among all students in the St. Paul school district is 44 percent in math and 37 percent in reading. Proficiency rates among white students in math and reading are 71 percent in both categories, while the rates among black students are 26 percent proficiency in math and 25 percent proficiency in reading. Continue Reading

From East Africa to Minnesota: Connecting hunger, poverty, and climate change

Solar-powered lanterns and cookstoves are among the practical approaches to expanding access to energy and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels in East Africa. They were among the topics in a discussion hosted by Stephanie Hemphill at the Safari Restaurant in Minneapolis on October 2. The meeting was sponsored by several social and environmental justice groups including the Sierra Club, the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA), Somali Family Services, and Oxfam.  One of the panelists was Mohamed Idris, the executive director of ARAHA.  Idris began by explaining how climate change will affect food insecurity in the future.  Climate change will cause more severe weather patterns, including increasingly common draughts and floods, which will lead to more crop failure and increased famine.Idris’s solution focused on expanding access to energy in Eastern Africa and switching that type of energy from traditional fossil fuels to sustainable alternatives, especially solar.  Many families in Eastern Africa do not have access to affordable energy at all, and Idris’s organization, ARAHA, is working to change that. ARAHA is working on a pilot project that will provide solar powered lanterns to 100 families in the Shagarab Refugee Camp in Sudan so that they can have light after sundown.  ARAHA is also providing solar stoves to a pilot group of 200 families.  Idris was able to cook rice in the solar stove himself, and says, “To see the steam coming out of the pot, without gas or anything attached to the stove, that was amazing.”  Idris says that adaption to the new technology has been low, but as it becomes more affordable he hopes that people will see the difference solar technology can make in their lives.The other panelist was Paul Porter, a professor of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.  Porter reinforced the idea that while climate change will amplify the effects of poverty and hunger in the future, it is not the cause of them.  He noted that challenges like political instability, land ownership laws, and market access had been feeding poverty in Eastern Africa before climate change was studied.Porter explained that much of Somalia and Eastern Africa is communal land that is not owned by anyone.  This is rapidly changing, and the increase in private land is making it difficult for many farmers (especially those who raise livestock) to continue their traditional practices.  International efforts can also harm farmers, even when they are well intended.  Food aid from other countries, for instance, decreases the demand for domestically produced food.  Porter noted that one way to reverse this is to purchase food from local farmers with the money that would be spent shipping food aid, thus helping the economy at the same time.Porter reminded the crowd that while farmers feel the effects of climate change, they cannot really influence it.  “As you think about these issues, be [the farmers’] voice…because they can’t really speak,” Porter urged.  This sentiment was echoed in a statement from Congressman Ellison, read by his representative Jamie Long.  Ellison noted that while the United States is the world’s largest emitter of carbon emissions, the effects of climate change are felt disproportionately by people in other countries.The night ended with discussion at each of the tables about what individuals could do to decrease the effects of climate change, from reducing energy consumption to changing their eating habits.  Jessica Tritsch, from the Sierra Club, led the discussions and reminded everybody of how our individual actions affect communities across the world.Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation. Continue Reading

Kenyan Minnesotans affected by Nairobi attack

Members of Minnesota’s Kenyan-American community gathered in the Capitol rotunda on the morning of Wednesday, September 25, to condemn the recent terrorist attack at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.  Pastor Zipporah Bogonko opened the press conference, saying, “On behalf of Kenyans in Minnesota and our many American friends, we come together today to condemn in the strongest possible terms, the act of terror perpetrated on innocent Kenyans and other citizens of multiple countries at the Westgate Mall.”Even in the wake of the tragedy, which left 67 people dead and many more injured, the message from the Kenyan community was one of solidarity and kindness.  “We will not retaliate with hate and retribution but extend our love and hospitality – that is who we are as a people,” Bogonko continued.  Although the Al-Shabab terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Mshale editor Tom Gitaa, noted that, “Our Somali brothers and sisters came out and condemned the act…I’m confident that we will continue being good friends and neighbors to the Somali people.”Although the attack occurred in Nairobi, Kenya, its effects are felt by those living in Minnesota.  Kihanya Mwaura, a Kenyan Minnesotan at the event,  lost a family member in the attack.  There will be a prayer service on Saturday, September 28 at 5801 John Martin Drive, Brooklyn Center.  The service begins at 5 PM and all proceeds from the evening will go towards those affected by the attack.This is one of a number of articles produced by student interns at the TC Daily Planet.Related story:  Somali youth speak out against al-Shabab recruiting Continue Reading