Re-Imagine Justice for Youth
The new approach to juvenile justice started with a research project with the University of Minnesota to complete a ten-year baseline data analysis to understand how the traditional system was performing. The analysis, completed in 2020, revealed that when a youth was most typically referred to the legal system, the less effective the impact was, as they became repeat offenders into adulthood. Youth with the most serious behaviors often ended up with felony charges as adults. Black, Latino, and Indigenous youth were most likely to be re-referred to the legal system rather than involving other solutions.
Preliminary results from an ongoing process of evaluation is indicating that community involvement, including youth’s families, are having an impact on reduced recidivism. Some sample quotes with youth involved in the new process:
Connections for Incarceration-Impacted Families
The Minnesota Department of Health and several other partners have joined together in a pilot project designed to help children and incarcerated parents maintain family ties. Having an incarcerated parent can lead to an increased risk of illness, poor mental health, substance abuse, and poor academic outcomes. Research by the University of Minnesota and Wilder shows that staying connected can reduce some of the negative impacts.
Minnesota Health Care Disparities Report
MN Community Measurement released their report on health care disparities by race, ethnicity, preferred language, and country of origin for care delivered in Minnesota in 2022. Black, Indigenous, and Latinx patients; patients who speak Hmong, Somali, or Spanish as a first language; and patients from Laos, Mexico, or Somalia had “significantly lower health care quality rates compared to the statewide average.”
The report revealed that adolescents across race, ethnicity, and nationality – except for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander adolescents – were screened for their mental health or depression at much higher rates in 2022 than before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 92% of 12-17 year-olds were screened for mental health and/or Depression at a well-child visit in 2022. Indigenous and Native adolescents, however, were 5% less likely than the statewide average to receive a mental health screening at a well-child visit. Adolescents who prefer to speak Somali were much less likely than their peers to follow up for mental health screenings at 6 or 12 months.
Adults with depression had massive disparities in follow up treatment by primary language spoken. Native Somali speakers were about 13% less likely to have a 6-month follow up screening and about 21% less likely to have a 12-month follow up than native English speakers. Find the full report here.
Greater Twin Cities United Way launched Pathways Home to disrupt the pipeline into homelessness for foster youth and adults transitioning from incarceration. According to a 2023 Annie E. Casey Foundation report, roughly 400 young people leave the Minnesota foster care system at age 18 each year — by age 21, 41 percent of them do not have stable housing and 44 percent have experienced incarceration. Pathways Home is creating a coalition of Minnesotans engaged in housing, youth development, and re-entry work to design a cross-sector model that identifies the services and fields to support vulnerable populations in finding secure housing.
Implementing Restorative Practices
The Minnesota Department of Education has an Implementing Restorative Practices program that offers a list of resources for community-led practices to repair relationships when harm has been caused in schools.
Addressing Anxiety in Children
Northfield-based Rocky Casillas Aguirre, executive director of Sharing Our Roots (who worked with us on this story in 2021), wrote and illustrated a storybook
for children titled “Where Did Anxiety Go?” The goal is to help children realize that anxiety is a common and normal way the body responds to feelings, and is not a definition of who they are. It includes a mindfulness exercise to help children sit with their emotions instead of pushing them away.
Casillas Aguirre indicates that anxiety is something he experiences, since childhood, and especially during the pandemic. He attributes the high rate of anxiety and mental health issues youth are facing today as a result of technology access to the concerns and measuring sticks of the culture, a disconnection from nature, an an educational system that prioritizes productivity over exploration. The storybook, geared to kids roughly ages three to six, is an attempt to normalize conversations and safe spaces to talk about mental health, which is otherwise a taboo topic from a young age.
He says he would like to see meditation integrated into all schools as a way to teach emotional calm and mental clarity. “If kids started their first class with meditation, it would help them release that initial stress and have better clarity to focus on the day ahead,” he says. “Gym classes could incorporate walking meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises after intense activity to help students return to a state of calm. Replacing detention with meditation is something all schools should be moving towards. Traditional detention, which punishes kids for misbehaving without the opportunity to reflect, is a disservice to youth because it doesn’t help build emotional intelligence.”
Some schools in Baltimore have incorporated meditation into their curriculum, Casillas Aguirre says, “with promising results – fewer verbal and physical altercations, fewer suspensions, and increases in both attendance and student GPAs. I would love to see Minnesota follow in their footsteps.”
He has been visiting some schools in Northfield to talk about art and mental health, including an “exercise to turn their emotions into colorful characters. In doing so, we give them their own personality and identity. We talk to them and ask them questions. We sit with them and meditate. All of this helps create a bit of space between ourselves and our emotions, so we don’t feel consumed by them. Feelings, whether pleasant or uncomfortable, are just visitors passing by.”