Minneapolis kids who are picked up by a police officer for skipping school or missing curfew will be sent to the new Juvenile Supervision Center in Minneapolis City Hall. Funded by the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County, the center expects to see 4,000 children pass through its doors this year alone.
While city and county leaders are pleased to see the new Supervision Center open after several years of planning, it’s not really a flashy or novel place that they want kids to be excited about seeing; they prefer kids to stay in school, or at home during late evening hours resting up for the next school day.
The Juvenile Supervision Center is where youth ages 10-17 are taken when they are found committing low-level offenses, like truancy, curfew violations, or a first-time shoplifting offense. It is a safe place for youth to go to until they are picked up by a parent, and it was designed to help teens receive social service assistance, if needed, to correct any challenges the child is currently facing.
“It is very much a prevention program that intervenes with youth,” explains Sharlene Shelton, Hennepin County’s human services area manager. “It helps them so they don’t escalate further in committing more crimes.”
Before the center opened, these same low-level offenders were taken to the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center and mixed in with youth who were accused of committing much more serious crimes such as armed robbery or taking a weapon to school.
Shelton notes that studies show if a teen even so much as touches the door of a facility housed with higher-crime offenders, the likelihood of that teen committing another crime is very high.
The opening of the new center comes as many city, county and community leaders are working together to more effectively prevent youth violence before it occurs. In January, the City of Minneapolis released a Blueprint for Action to Reduce Youth Violence in Minneapolis that outlined 34 steps to reduce youth violence, including support for the Juvenile Supervision Center.
The center is open 24 hours a day and is more than just a quiet spot where teens can wait for their parents to come and pick them up. It is supervised waiting, and staff will do a risk screening of each child. If the results show the child rates high on the at-risk screening, staff will conduct an assessment and connect the child with a county or city social services resource for short-term or long-term care.
The care is voluntary — not required by anyone — and most importantly, it might help the child open up and communicate about what caused him/her to commit the low-level offense to being with.
“When it’s a first-time offense, it’s often a sign of a more serious problem,” notes Shelton. “For example, if a child is found shoplifting, we want to know why. Is it because they’re homeless, or was it a gang-initiated activity?”
These are tough questions for kids to answer and often yield painful feelings. But, City and community leaders want these issues resolved before they develop into more serious crimes. Children who stay in school are most often children who succeed in life.
Merle Bell-Gonzales of the Office of Student Attendance with Minneapolis Public Schools notes that attendance patterns start early, and there is a direct link between school success and children attending school.
“We are very appreciative of the fact that community resources have come together for this [Supervision Center],” said Bell-Gonzales. “Attendance helps students feel connected to school. It gives them a feeling of purpose and responsibility.”
She notes that a one percent increase in attendance yields more than a one percent increase in test scores. And, math scores are affected 31⁄2 times as much as reading scores when attendance levels improve.
Kids learn when they’re in school. And when they’re not, juvenile crimes increase.
According to Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, “Over the past two years, juveniles accounted for almost half of all those arrested for violent crimes. Those numbers have dropped by 20 percent due to a renewed focus by officers on violent offenders as well as curfew and truancy. In fact, schools that worked with the police reported a 75 percent improvement in truancy problems,” he said.
Bell-Gonzales notes that the success of our youth is truly a community effort. “Everyone in our community must value education. Getting an education can change a life — that’s the one thing that is a given. We have to advocate this.”
It will take the work of great parents and outstanding community leaders to promote education and to help prevent youth violence before it occurs. But by doing so, African American communities in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and all other neighborhoods in Minnesota will be safer, stronger, and a place to call home for many generations to come.
Felicia Shultz welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.