On Tuesday, December 6, members of the East Side community and of the juvenile justice profession came together at Progressive Baptist Church to share stories and information about how to support all of our young people. As one participant stated – “Saint Paul is RESOURCE RICH BUT ACCESS POOR.” We have opportunities for youth and families to have healthy relationships with the community of which they are a part, but few people KNOW what is available, how and when to use the resources. This is the issue we want to address. We start with this gathering and sharing of information…
We had representatives from the following groups at our December meeting:
· youth development organizations such as the Sanneh Foundation, District 1 Youth Council,
· youth diversion programs such as Saint Paul Youth Services,
· restorative justice organizations such as the Dispute Resolution Center and Restorative Justice Community Action,
· youth mental health professionals such as the Youth Crisis Center and Boys Totem Town,
· law enforcement – SP Police (Community Engagement Unit, Gang Unit, East District), (Ramsey County Sheriff, and Metro Transit Police were also invited and were unable to attend at the last minute),
· the legal system – County Attorney’s Office, Ramsey County Judges George Stephenson and Patrick Diamond,
· the juvenile corrections and probation system – Boys Totem Town and probation
· our policy makers – SP Councilmember Jane Prince and State Representative Sheldon Johnson.
· our neighborhood organizations – District 1 Community Council and District 2 Community Council.
Our initial speaker, Judge George Stephenson, spoke about the need to create safe spaces such as this to have uncomfortable conversations about the interplay of race and justice, and, in these conversations, to assume good intentions and to always give each other the benefit of the doubt as we interact. After hearing from Judge Stephenson about the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and how Ramsey County has worked to reduce incarceration of young people, the attendees visited with the professionals to share stories and learn about resources available to us. What follows is a summary of the topics covered.
SP Police are working on a Career Laboratory for youth with the goal of creating a new path toward a career in law enforcement and making SPPD more diverse and more representative of the people of Saint Paul. From 20-50 low-income youth will be supported through their program at Century College. They also had a program called Violence Intervention Program that identified youth that were repeatedly getting into trouble. These youth and their families could then be connected to a comprehensive array of support services. SPPD will also be hiring African American, Hmong, Latino and Somali community specialists in the coming year to help build trust across cultural boundaries.
Restorative Justice programs are operating in some schools (and some schools have been designated asand there is a goal to spread the use of this practice to a variety of community settings – keeping kids out of the criminal justice system and demonstrating how they can be valued within the community. This practice uses circle processes to limit distress and resolve problems. The circle process requires trained facilitators with specific rules for participation that move attendees through a healing process for harm done. This process works with lower level first time offenders and provides cultural and community specific resources. It sees the greater community’s role as one of learning/teaching rather than punishment and isolation for youthful offenders.
Youth development programs, education and restorative justice processes work in tandem when things are operating properly. Programs like Saint Paul Youth Services address issues with youth who have been identified by schools or other institutions as headed in the wrong direction. These programs also divert youth from the criminal justice system, providing supports for youth and their families to develop and maintain healthy habits for living in community. Diversion is a form of restorative justice that builds different forms of support around but beyond the nuclear family. There is an assessment in 3 forms – for the parent, the child and the particular diversion program. These programs feel that the piece missing is a way to address larger youth justice issues – not just the one-on-one approach. This implies that policy changes are needed.
Youth development programs are needed that allow youth to showcase their talents and activities, provide healthy choices for activities in a structured and supervised venue, and allow for personal and social development of individuals and groups of young people. The general feeling is that there are not enough of these programs to provide opportunities for all our young people, especially at critical ages. Sprockets, a program of the City, is one that should be better used. Youth development organizations can be youth clubs, church groups, groups centered at recreation centers, libraries, schools. They can also be volunteer-run in specific neighborhoods. The concern with youth development programs is that programs are being designed for youth of color without those youth having a say in creating those programs. As far as schools and education go, the concern is that subjects are not taught in a way that actually engages youth interests – it is too formulaic.
The mental health system in our society is a voluntary system. It is rare for the County to intervene and force treatment on individuals. For youth, family members have to voluntarily seek mental health help. The problem is that community members don’t know what resources are available, and often don’t know the signs of mental distress. Some resources include NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the Youth Crisis Center, EAP for families (Employee Assistance Programs through someone’s employer), Tuesday night drop-ins for families at the County’s University Ave walk-in center (1919 University Ave.), and – in some schools – mental health professionals from nonprofit community partners. Some schools have been identified as “Trauma Informed Schools” where behavior problems are assessed as a response to trauma the child has experienced, not some “fault” of the child. The problem with mental health resources is lack of knowledge that they exist, and how, in a crisis, they can be accessed.