Legislator, county attorney laud juvenile detention initiative

meemouaby T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Mee Moua wanted to brag — in part about Dakota County.

Moua and other supporters of a national juvenile justice reform, including Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, were at the Capitol Thursday, Jan. 28 to laud the results of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI).

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, and Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom were at the Capitol Thursday (Jan. 28) to laud the results of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). The program has resulted in fewer juvenile offenders serving time in detention with cost savings to local government. (Photo by T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter)

The initiative looks for alternative ways of handing juvenile offenders other than detention, explained Moua, a St Paul DFLer who has made juvenile justice reform the focus of her tenure as committee chairwoman.

Research shows jailing young offenders can do more harm than good, JDAI supporters note.

Supporters view the results of JDAI pilot projects in Dakota, Ramsey and Hennepin counties as proof the JDAI approach — the key being collaboration, said Backstrom — works.

$14 million expansion

Dakota County, which was considering a $14 million expansion to its juvenile detention facility, has avoided the cost through the use of JDAI, said Moua.

Instead of instantly driving juvenile offenders to the detention center, police in Dakota County now first check with crisis treatment facilities, explained JDAI state coordinator Angelique Kedem.

JDAI relies on alternatives to detention, such as house arrest, day treatment, and other rehabilitative approaches.

A 66 percent reduction in the number of juvenile detentions were seen in the three metro counties since the start of the JDAI pilot program.

On average it cost $311 per day to jail a juvenile, just about $60 per day for an alternative program, note JDAI supporters.

Laying the JDAI groundwork in Dakota County took two years, said Backstrom. “This is a great initiative,” he said.

JDAI  can be accomplished without jeopardizing public safety, said Backstrom. Some violent juvenile offenders do belong in detention, he said.

But the JDAI approach can result in even violent offenders spending less time in detention, he said.

No legislation required

Moua said JDAI requires no legislation, no state appropriations to advance.

“It’s tremendous to be able to make these kinds of reforms, to get these kinds of results, without any legislative changes or any requirements for state appropriations,” she said.

She just wanted to brag about the JDAI, said Moua.

The JDAI approach has expanded to Greater Minnesota, to St. Louis County, where public officials have become concerned about the number of Native American youths entering the juvenile justice system, explained Kedem.

One focus of the JDAI approach is to involve minority communities in crafting the juvenile justice system, she explained.

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