Innovative youth violence prevention and juvenile justice programs produce results

As temperatures rise, one look around proves spring has sprung. Teens shoot hoops on the basketball court in Folwell Park. The playground in Webber Park is full of excited children, finally allowed outdoors after winter’s cold. At Fairview Park, youth in baseball clubs practice fielding grounders and catching fly balls.

While warmer weather makes possible these happy snapshots of spring, it also ushers in an increase in youth violence throughout Camden and the greater city. With young people more active in the temperate spring and summer months, there is a greater opportunity for disputes and altercations.

Eliminating all youth violence is unrealistic, but there are reasons to be optimistic about the outlook for Minneapolis. Following large spikes in incidents in the early 2000s, the city implemented a proactive approach for addressing the problem. Since adopting a Blueprint for Action against youth violence in 2008, Minneapolis has seen incidents in some areas decline by more than 60 percent.

The city’s Blueprint for Action has resulted in programs that connect kids with trusted adults, enable early intervention at warning signs, and help youth who do engage in violence to make changes in their behavior. Unlearning the culture of violence is the focus of these initiatives, which leads to the whole community being safer for everyone.

Gains against youth violence have garnered Minneapolis national attention. In 2013, President Barack Obama unveiled a gun-control initiative here, citing the city’s violence prevention efforts. Minneapolis is also among 15 cities that make up the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, a group tasked with fostering a national conversation about how to prevent youth and gang violence.

This year’s activities around Youth Violence Prevention Week, occurring the last week of March, are indicative of the type of programs Minneapolis is using to address the issue. Community meetings featuring intergenerational conversations were held in locations around the city, the idea being to bring together residents in a united effort against youth violence.

On the Northside, neighbors, activists and youth convened at Emerge Community Development (1101 West Broadway) on a Monday night. The conversation revolved around what individuals could do to be part of the solution in their communities. Among those involved were young people who participated in violence in the past, but who now bring a message to peace to their peers.

Involving teens in the process to come up with solutions is a strong element of the city’s violence prevention approach. The Minneapolis Youth Congress, which participated in Youth Violence Prevention Week activities, was set up to give young people a say in policies developed and implemented by the city. The 55-member group includes students from grades 8-12, advising city and county entities on safety programs and other initiatives.

Minneapolis also seeks to take an innovative approach after youth are involved in violence. Juvenile justice programs are designed to help young people involved in incidents make productive choices going forward. In fact, recent reforms made in the system have captured the city attention from across the U.S.

In March, Mayor Betsy Hodges and Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau presented information about the city’s efforts to the National League of Cities (NLC) in Washington, D.C. Minneapolis was one of six cities chosen to participate, also receiving technical assistance to implement additional juvenile justice reforms that improve outcomes for youth.

“I’m proud we are serving as a local leader on juvenile justice reform,” said Mayor Hodges, noting she would bring takeaways home from the Washington, D.C. “[The event] provided us the opportunity to learn more about and incorporate evidence-based principles into our juvenile justice programs,” she said.

Chief Harteau also voiced optimism that the city’s delegation would use what it learned back home to decrease youth arrests and juvenile crime. “The timing of this … couldn’t be better as we move forward with great momentum on juvenile outreach and diversion,” said Harteau.

“We are looking for more buy-in from our youth and one of our main objectives this summer is to … bring them to the table to be part of the public safety conversation,” continued Harteu. “We have a number of new and exciting initiatives to announce in the coming weeks.”