Cheryl Kreager, Director, Juvenile Justice Coalition of Minnesota
The Civic Caucus
8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
May 11, 2012
Notes of the Discussion
Verne Johnson (chair), David Broden, Audrey Clay (phone), Janis Clay
(phone), Paul Gilje (coordinator), Dan Loritz (vice-chair), Tim McDonald,
Summary of discussion
Kreager, director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition of Minnesota describes
the opportunity for expanding the scope of programs for young people who
commit crimes to include more effective interventions. Most inappropriate
behaviors are symptoms of underlying problems, Kreager asserts, which
detention or out-of-home placement alone does not successfully address.
She suggests alternatives to detention or out-of-home placement and a
strategy to develop effective measures through involvement of those in the
juvenile justice system.
A. Introduction of interviewee
- Cheryl Kreager has worked
with the Juvenile Justice Coalition of Minnesota (JJC) since 2007, as a
project manager, associate director and now as director, co-leading the
formation of the organization's transition from a Hennepin County based
group to a statewide coalition focused on improving Minnesota's juvenile
justice system. She manages JJC's systems change efforts in collaboration
with a 25-member statewide steering committee, numerous volunteer groups
and professionals and practitioners throughout the state.
Kreager earned a master's degree in public
affairs from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public
Affairs and a bachelor's degree from the College of St. Benedict. She
holds a certificate from Georgetown University's Center for Juvenile
THE PROBLEM: We don't meet the needs of
"Many young people in the state have major needs
in their lives that aren't being met, and as a result they often end up in
the juvenile justice system," Kreager said.
Seventy percent of young people in the system
have mental health issues. Many have sexual and/or substance abuse in
their backgrounds; many have witnessed violence; many are members of
single parent families; many come from families in poverty.
These are the society's most vulnerable kids,
Kreager added, that have had some of the worst things happen to them - and
our community's response is to put them into a system that punishes them
again. It's not, perhaps, an intentional cruelty, but it is the reality
for this population.
There is also disproportionate representation of
minorities in this population - as measured both against the state's
demographics and that of the rest of the country.
Some of the biases in the system have been
addressed. Inequities continue to exist, but the underlying issues run
deep. The data shows that poverty, ineffective parenting and substance
abuse are some of the risk factors for youths ending up in the juvenile
Meet children's needs so they can become successful adults.
"We don't have any common measures of outcomes
for our state juvenile justice system," Kreager said, "and no common
definition for recidivism. That makes it difficult to measure the relative
effectiveness of different approaches."
The goals stated in statute are simple: public
safety and rehabilitation. Ensuring public safety can employ two methods:
stopping a threat to public safety as it is happening, or preventing it
Rehabilitation is a troublesome term, Kreager
said, because it implies that these youth are broken and need to be fixed.
"All the problems we see - mental illness, acting out in antisocial ways-
are symptoms of a more difficult underlying issue in the life of the
A participant observed that we have become a
very controlled society. Young people used to be able to do much more than
they're allowed to do now.
"This would be my second problem-statement,"
Kreager said. "We really have criminalized young people's behavior." A lot
of this criminalization has grown out of the terror caused by school
shootings, and some is the result of the No Child Left Behind legislation.
Nowadays if boys or girls get in fights, they get charged with assault; if
they talk back in school they're likely charged with some other offense as
This is a problem because these charges follow
them into adult life. It used to be that juvenile justice was a private
affair; now for example, Minnesota has almost 100 professional licenses
through Human Services that can be withheld due to a youth's juvenile
record and prevent them from getting employment in many professions. (This
is unusual in the country.)
"What I struggle with is defining people for
life upon decisions they make and actions they take when they're a
THE STRATEGY:Get people to work across departmental lines to focus on prevention.
The Justice Coalition works statewide to bring
people involved in these issues together, Kreager said. The members of the
Coalition have no authority, but seek to influence. They are trying to get
people to look at systems change.
"Minnesota has one of the best systems in the
country. As much as we may criminalize kids, in fact we don't do it as
much as other states. There are several states that send youth age 17, and
two as young as age 16, into the adult system for all offenses. Many send
young people to juvenile prisons. We don't do that. We provide therapeutic
interventions and try to connect youth with community-based programs to
solve problems first."
Find alternatives to detention and out-of-home
Hennepin and Ramsey counties have especially
improved their systems by reducing their use of secure detention,
providing community-based interventions and reducing use of out-of-home
placement. Many of the youth have substance use or other behavioral
issues. These alternative tactics that address underlying problems are not
only much more effective, Kreager said, but lower cost because they are
more realistically aligned with the challenges young people are facing.
Research shows the "scared straight" model
doesn't work, and that if young people are out of their homes for too long
the effectiveness wears off.
The Juvenile Justice Coalition is funded by
foundation and government sources. As a statewide organization, the
Coalition has provided multiple training sessions around the state on best
practices. The training is targeted toward a variety of state and local
agencies whose services intersect with some aspect of juvenile justice.
Many of the difficulties of dealing with youth stem from whether, for
example, the young person is correctly assigned to one system or county
department. The overlapping assignment of responsibility among the
agencies has created a barrier to properly serving youths' needs.
Progress is being made. For example, until last
year's legislative session, if young girls were picked up for prostitution
they were treated as criminals. Now they're being treated as victims of
sex trafficking. People in the system are beginning to recognize these are
children with serious needs and that we have to understand why they're
doing what they're doing in order to set them on a different path.
Create opportunities for cooperation.
Kreager's Steering Committee brought in the
Public Strategies Group in April to discuss redesigning services to
improve outcomes. "People recognize that one system is different from
another system, but the systems all attempt to address the same kids with
the same problems. What we're looking at is exploring redesigning the
system for at-risk youth to improve the chances of positive changes in
The coalition is developing a strategy and
looking at how to secure funding to go through the process of facilitating
discussions among the different people working with at-risk youth
statewide to lead to more effective juvenile justice interventions.
"The Steering Committee recognized that they're
the stakeholders, but not the re-designers. That's good, because often in
an industry you hear the same conversations over and over about what's not
working; but insiders are sometimes too close to the system to get to the
next step, actually redesigning the system to work more effectively. Often
it is helpful to have the experts within the system describe it, and allow
people on the outside to provide ideas for what could be done
Minnesota's county-based system will aid
Minnesota has a county-based system with good
people involved, Kreager said. Many states have a state-down hierarchy
that inhibits change at the county level. Minnesota's county-based system
allows for communities to create responses and interventions based on
their unique needs and available resources. There is also a much stronger
non-profit sector here to provide community-based interventions for youth
involved in juvenile justice and a general philosophy that out-of-home
placement is for high need or high risk youth. In some states up to 70
percent of youth held in secure detentions are for non-violent offenses
and youth are routinely sent to juvenile correctional facilities that
resemble adult prisons. All these factors favor Minnesota's prospects for
effectively redesigning its juvenile justice system.
Kreager pointed out the juvenile justice system
is not a single system. Minnesota has a county-based delivery system for
juvenile justice, which comprises many different agencies. For example,
while the judicial system is made of state employees, county attorneys and
most probation officers are county employees. "I always tell people we
have 87 different juvenile justice systems in Minnesota."
At once this makes innovation more possible, but
also hampers wide-scale implementation of good redesign ideas or best
practices. Whether youth are put through the whole formal court process or
diverted to an alternative program depends entirely on local leaders'
philosophies. These are significantly different options and consequently
the treatment of youth is highly inconsistent across the state.
Kreager offered two specific suggestions for
the number of court contacts. Keeping young people out of the court
system is critical, Kreager said. Non-violent offenders should never see a
courtroom. Once a young person gets into the court system, and the further
up that system they go, the more likely they will remain in the justice
system and the more likely they will reoffend.
-Develop programs targeted specifically at
the underlying causes of inappropriate behavior. Diversion is one
response to youth’s inappropriate behaviors or a way to identify the
reasons behind a youth’s actions. One example of an effective diversion
program is operated by the Northern Star Boy Scouts Council. They offer a
ten-class program to youth who have offended to educate them about what
was done, what was wrong, and what could have been done instead. Other
diversion efforts screen youth and route youth found with mental health
concerns toward mental health services. Some youth are required to
complete community service if that appears to be more appropriate to the
offense and to the youth’s individual situation.
C. Conclusion -
"There are really good things happening - I've
been amazed," Kreager said. Minnesota is out ahead of many other states,
but is not yet meeting the needs of all young people. This is an area that
represents a high potential for government redesign. "Now it is important
to help the people involved to come up with new solutions."
The chair thanked Kreager for the visit.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
Verne C. Johnson, chair; David Broden,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Marina Lyon,
Joe Mansky, John Mooty, Jim Olson,
and Wayne Popham