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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Ramsey County Attorney’s Office Defends Early Intervention Plan to Remediate Potential Repeat Offenders

Ramsey County’s attorney’s office wants to eliminate adversariality in some juvenile cases in order to reform potential repeat offenders earlier.

Over the past two years, the office has experimented with a different approach to defining the trajectory of nonviolent affairs among young people aged 10 to 17.

The three-person team – the joint screening team – seeks to gain a holistic view of the juvenile offender before deciding whether to return to his family, refer him to a social worker, refer him to an alternative residence, or face charges. the crime.

“Part of what we are trying to change as a county is that whichever door you enter the county through (social services, justice department, etc.), we want to help,” said Erika Schumacher, director of strategic initiatives. and public relations in the district attorney’s office. “We want to help resolve these basic situations, not just the consequences.”

SIXTY SIX CASES FROM ITS BEGINNING

Since its inception, the team has processed 66 cases, studying and refining them along the way.

One lesson learned was that the CRT would not engage in aggravated robbery, homicide, sexual felony or assault, officials said. They first looked into the Kendrick Washington case, in which a 16-year-old was involved in a shootout in May, and then stole a car in July, killing a dog in the car.

“This probably influenced some of our early conclusions that we were not going to commit aggravated robberies,” Schumacher said.

Washington was indicted, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault, theft and animal cruelty, and was sentenced to prison.

“We thought that by focusing only on cases involving release from custody, we would eliminate the most difficult cases, but we realized that this is not necessarily the case,” said Dennis Gerhardstein, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

WHY OFFICIALS SAY CHANGE NECESSARY

According to a county study based on data from 2010 to 2019, 80 percent of young people are not charged with a felony, but the percentage of young people with charges grows with more contacts with the Ramsey County attorney’s office. During this time, about 230 young people returned 12 or more times.

Overall, the study found that one in five young people who interacted with the Ramsey County justice system committed a felony as an adult.

“We have children who were sent to the system 30 and 40 times from 10 to 17 years old. So it obviously doesn’t work for them, ”Schumacher said.

TRADITIONAL VS. CRT

So how does the CRT differ from the traditional Ramsey County approach to juvenile affairs?

“What happened before this trial was that prosecutors brought charges against them and brought them into the system,” said Jim Fleming, the county’s chief public defender. “We drove them away like turkeys on a production line and just spit them out. We label kids, tell them they’re bad, and, you know what, they come back as adults. “

According to him, the traditional way often means that the juvenile is brought to trial several months after the crime was committed.

“The waiting time is very long. In fact, they never manage to meet the person they have harmed. Not everyone is judged, ”said Fleming. “Maybe the system will work if we try every case that gets addressed. But in Ramsey County, that’s about 14,000 cases. We have only 29 judges. “

According to Schumacher, CRT sees the big picture, not just the police report. And judging from what they know about teen brain development, relationships are key, as this case is quickly processed.

Nuances of a paradigm shift

There is a core philosophy behind every initiative. The District Attorney’s Office outlined the specifics of the amendments to the several-page document. There are several areas where the two approaches differ, with the traditional approach listed first:

  • Decisions based primarily on the police report rather than a more detailed description of the youth’s history and underlying causes of behavior.
  • The judge admits guilt, remains impartial, the judge better understands the underlying dynamics and solves problems.
  • The police seek to resolve conflicts, while the police are less responsive, more acting as a problem solver.
  • Using a separative, objective, inhuman language versus people-centered language.
  • The victim’s needs are not addressed until / unless the accused and victims are invited to participate in the process, determine what they need to heal.
  • Actors in the system have the exclusive right to make decisions, while actors in the system share power with the affected communities.
  • Young people’s behavior, seen as a character flaw versus behavior, is a cry for help.
  • Public safety is achieved through deterrence, and safety is achieved through connections and social structure.
  • Fairness is achieved at the expense of equal consequences compared to fairness achieved through an equitable process.
  • Equity is achieved by defining guilt versus fairness by defining how to treat in a collaborative process.
  • The belief that holding people accountable will change behavior, rather than focusing on healing harm.

ANSWER TO CRITICS

Some of CRT’s loudest detractors are in law enforcement.

The CRT’s “Committee of Three” does not reflect the concerns of law enforcement, the child’s parents, victims, or society at large, Ramsay County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said in a recent letter to the county attorney.

Fleming said Fletcher’s objections were political.

“He wants it to sound like there are serious violent offenses going through this process, which is not at all the case,” he said.

Some wonder if what Ramsey County Attorney John Choi is doing is legal.

Robert Small, executive director of the Minnesota County Bar Association, declined to comment specifically on the CRT, but said, “Prosecutors have broad powers to pursue justice in accordance with the laws, professional responsibilities and will of the people.”

CRT SOFT ON CRIME?

Some cases may involve firearms, but not violent crime.

Joseph Olson, a former lawyer, professor and founder of the Alliance for Civil Rights of Gun Owners, is concerned that the CRT could set a bad precedent by not punishing minors caught with illegal firearms, regardless of whether they used them in a crime.

“The teenagers on the street come to us with the idea that carrying a gun is free,” he said.

So far, Fleming has said that he sees a fair balance in decision making. He knows five minors on trial by the CRT who were admitted to trial as adults for their crimes.

HOW TO MEASURE SUCCESS

How will the district attorney’s office know if it has managed to limit recidivism?

They will look at data, files, and surveys to determine if a young person has established a meaningful relationship with an adult in their life. This could mean a coach or a parent. And, if they are held accountable, will they remedy the harm done or make up for it, and whether feelings for the perpetrator have been restored for a positive future, said Kara Beckman, a University of Minnesota researcher hired by the county attorney’s office.

“We’re not going to pretend it’s a magic bullet, but we’re aiming for it to be better than what we have now,” Beckman said.

World Nation News Desk
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