Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 22, 1999
Look to the community, not the system, to guide juveniles
By Luis Puga
These are some of the statistics that presenters at the Juvenile Justice System forum were using to make their arguments Thursday at Holy Trinity gymnasium in Winsted.
The presenters, made up of judicial, school, religious, and law enforcement officials, spoke for an hour and a half on one unified message: the community - or "village" - raises the child.
Moreover, that the parents and community can do more to deter the majority of juvenile delinquency than the juvenile justice system can do.
The event, sponsored by the Winsted Civic and Commerce Association and organized by the C&C's political coordinator Lenora Kubasch, was opened by Kubasch who said the event was not intended to "demonize" juveniles.
She then turned the microphone over to the evening's first speaker, Judge Philip Kanning from the First Judicial District Court.
Kanning began by defining majority of juvenile behavior as petty crimes and not the violent crimes most people think of. He listed examples such as stealing soda pops from a convenience story or minor acts of vandalism, "the little stuff that all of us did."
He maintained such behavior should be separated from the two percent of juveniles who commit more serious offenses and show up in court. These he classified as sociopathic and they are only a minute portion of juvenile behavior in McLeod County.
In fact, he said, contrary to media depictions, violent crime is on the decrease.
Kanning then turned to a study from Seattle where a group of troubled kids were given guidance in interpersonal problem solving and sensitivity training.
The training also included how to deal with peer pressure. They followed this group for 12 years and compared them to a control group not given the training.
Compared to the control group, the guided group was considerably lower in drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, and delinquency and, in his words, "loved school."
He also said that the long term cost of this guidance was less for the community than the costs of putting these kids through the system.
Kanning also described the success of family and group conferencing, where the victim and the troubled youth sit down together with an intermediary present. He said that, in his experience, the results have been that minor offenders do not return through the system.
The value lies in its immediacy, contrary to the delay and pace of the justice system.
Furthermore, the juvenile and the victim come to understand each other's position, with the victim becoming the most supportive person of the juvenile at times. The delinquency also takes on a personal nature, and the delinquent begins to realize how his/her actions affect others.
Kanning also believes that such diversion from the system gives the courts a "Wizard of Oz" effect where the youth is still in awe of the criminal justice system. The courts are then reserved for the most severe cases.
He said keeping monor offendors out of the system is key because the system can set them on a path towards further delinquency.
"By the time most of these young people get to me, they have developed a mindset that is extremely difficult to change," he said.
Other speakers told of their experiences with juvenile delinquency, voicing support for Kanning's emphasis on community action in addressing minor delinquency.
Role models were a subject covered by multiple speakers.
Michele Barley, a public defender in McLeod County, said she has found that juveniles have a hard time living up to certain high expectations. She used her own experience as the daughter of a police officer and one-time delinquent to make her point.
Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich said that the kids know him as "Officer Mike" through the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). The program allows him to estblish a personal relationship with youth early.
Both Pastor Sherri Sandoz of Bethel Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie and Dave Behrens of Lighthouse Education Ministries in Winsted talked of the need to set an example through religious discourse and teaching.
In general, the issue of raising the child through the community was also emphasized by many speakers.
Kubasch said that in her day, the courtroom was made up of the two parents and the child.
Kanning commented on instilling community pride in youth to prevent them from delinquency.
Shirley Olson, from the Wright County Community Collaborative, spoke on the importance of programs including not only the youth, but adult involvement as well.
One of the less spoken causes of delinquency was mental illness. Both Barley and Trudy Porter, a Holy Trinity school counselor, said that mental illness in juveniles is often disregarded because of cost of treatment and its taboo nature.
In Barley's case, she has had at least one client who needed such treatment, but it took the system many years to do anything about it.
Moreover, dysfunction in the family, from simple attention issues to more serious alcohol and abuse issues were touched upon.
Particularly, law enforcement officials said that they often see the effects of family dysfunction on a juvenile. Henrich bemoaned the fact that parents are often not at home when he brings offenders to their door.
But the main thrust of the evening was a return to simpler standards of discipline.
Some saw erosion in the ability of non-judicial authority figures (i.e. teachers, bus drivers, neighbors) as part of the problem.
Others remarked that rampant fear from that two percent of serious offendors has condemned any delinquency to be remanded to the court. Or that rules such as curfew and loitering are made to deal with that minority of juveniles, but encompass all youths.
Reaction from the audience was positive, with applause and appreciation expressed for the evening of information.
However, it was perhaps a communication from State Rep. Tony Kielkucki that got the most reaction of the evening.
As Lenora read the contents of H.F. 16, a law to legislate types of classroom disruption and define a proper learning environment in school, reaction ranged from chuckles to silent nods of disappointment.
It wasn't disappointment in the proposed legislation, but that in modern times, legislation is needed to mandate common sense and values, thus giving irony to the words of Kubasch: "Simple justice dies of complication."
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