Understanding the Youth Justice Bill

By: Jaiden Leary, Community Journalist-in-Training

Stakeholders and representatives collaborated together to address an issue that has been emerging as a growing significant problem: youth crime. House representative Matt Norris and Senator Clare Oumou Verbeten co-presented their Youth Justice Bill to address the uptick in youth crime. The bill’s stated goal is to fund programs which intervene in a young person’s life when their life starts to head down a wrong path.

While the originally introduced version of the legislation was not passed, a version of the bill with $500,000 in funding was included in the Judiciary and Public Safety Supplemental Budget Bill (HF 5216) and passed into law.

Correction: An earlier version of the bill noted incorrectly that the bill was not passed. A version of the bill was included in an omnibus bill and passed.

When asked how he determined what to include, Representative Matt Norris of district 32B which makes up the area of Blaine, said that he wanted to leave it relatively open so there were more options for youth to have. 

Representative Norris of District 32B 

“We wanted to leave it fairly open ended, in part because we know different young people are in need of different types of services,” Norris said. “What we wanted to do was not reinvent the wheel here at the legislator, but instead empower those people on the ground who are interacting with these young people daily.” 

Norris is referencing the strategy in the bill to give autonomy to local communities on how they would like to deal with the money granted. Norris expands on this idea describing it further. 

“We decided the best way to make sure that the money got to those types of organizations was to grant the money to the counties,” Norris said. “Then have the counties essentially make sub grants to organizations since they have a much stronger connection and have a better sense of who is doing the work well within their particular community.”  

Elijah Holliday, who collaborated on the bill as a stakeholder, works as the Youth Justice transformation planning manager for Ramsey County, and also has his own organization called Project Restore Minnesota, talks about his thoughts on the bill and what he was particularly excited for. Elijah said that he was excited to have various collaborations. 

“I’m really excited to be able to work with law enforcement so when they encounter young people engaging in delinquency we can bring those people to trusted partners in the community,” Elijah said. “I think that is the most exciting aspect of this deal for me.” 

David Starks works for Face 2 Face as the Youth Justice Program Manager and had a role in advocating the policy in the legislature. And said that he sees nonprofits having a big role in crime prevention and hopes that legislation advocates for funding directly to those nonprofits. 

David Stark testifying on Wednesday March 27th, at 11:00 a.m

“I think nonprofits have a role in crime prevention, crime is predictable, it’s predictable based on lack of economic investment and socio-economic status,” Starks said. “So the role is to try to think about ways to advocate for funding streams for nonprofits to operate, to respond, to try to work ourselves out of a job by advocating for re-allocation of public investment.”

Christopher Melendez, the Harm Repair Specialist at Face 2 Face and also an educator, expressed similar sentiments about nonprofits’ role in youth crime prevention. Saying that communities know what they need to succeed. 

“I’m a firm believer that the community knows what they need,” said Melendez. “Once we identified in that community (what they need) and started to work around as a collective we’re going to be able to figure out what we need and I want to follow that.” 

Norris also discussed some of the interventions emphasized in the bill, what they are, the reasoning behind it, and how they came to be. 

“We said we wanted these interventions to promote personal accountability, pro-social connections, and positive youth development,” Norris said. “We said we want wraparound services to educate and support families of participating youth, we want these to be data supported practices, we want to make sure that this money is being effectively used,” 

Norris also discussed how youth were involved in the process of constructing the bill in the form of feedback. He discussed what they suggested and the young people’s reasoning behind it. 

“Based on some of the feedback we heard from young people themselves as we were engaging in the process of building out this legislation,” Norris said. “We prioritize programs that incorporate employment or job skills training. We heard from young people saying that if they had more constructive things to do with my time I would much rather be doing that than engaging in some of these negative behaviors.” 

Chrisopher Melendez testified on Wednesday March 27th, at 11:00 a.m.

Holliday conveyed similar thoughts to the youth’s logic, saying that the structure, the motivation for it, and the life skills it develops are all great solutions to preventing youth crime. 

“I think it (jobs/internships for youth) provides structure for young people, I think it gives them something to look forward to,” Holliday said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a job or internship, but if a young person is passionate about making music, how can we connect them with a music program, pay to get them studio time, so instead of being in the street they can be in the studio.” 

Starks shared a story that emphasized this alternative approach to dealing with youth crime. Sharing a story about how Face 2 Face took young people to a car race in Burnsville to humanize them in the eyes of the people who are in charge of the system. 

“We ran a car race in Burnsville, took 10 young people, two judges, a retired probation officer, two staff members from a group home Journey of Hope,” Said Stark. “We went out there to race, we had Dickey’s Barbecue, the idea is to let the young people be young, let system folks see them as young people.”

The Youth Justice Bill is representative of a broader change in how youth crime is being addressed in Minnesota. The bills proposed $500k for youth violence prevention included in final passage of the Judiciary and Public Safety Supplemental Budget Bill.

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