Community leaders call for change within Minnesota juvenile justice system after Michigan death

Community leaders call for change within Minnesota juvenile justice system after Michigan death Photo: KSTP.

Callan Gray
Updated: June 25, 2020 11:16 AM
Created: June 19, 2020 06:42 PM

A young man's death in Michigan last month is sparking calls for change within the juvenile justice system in Minnesota.

According to police, 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick went into cardiac arrest on April 29 while being restrained by staff after throwing a sandwich at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

He died at the hospital two days later on May 1.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday it started the legal process to revoke Lakeside’s license, “after a thorough investigation of the death of a youth who was wrongly restrained by staff.”

“Cornelius should still be alive,” said Elizer Darris, with the ACLU of Minnesota.

Darris joined community leaders, the president of the NAACP Minneapolis chapter, Legal Rights Center and several parents outside of the Hennepin County Government Center on Thursday to call for change.

“His last words were reminiscent of what George Floyd experienced and what Eric Garner experienced,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney.

Lakeside Academy housed 125 youth, including six from Hennepin County.

“Following the tragic death of Cornelius Frederick Lakeside Academy, the Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation immediately removed all Hennepin County youth who had been placed at the facility. Since then, the department has permanently suspended all future placement of youth at Lakeside Academy,” said Jon Collins, a spokesperson for the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation.

There is still one young person placed at a residential treatment facility outside Minnesota, according to Collins.

“We’re here to demand that Hennepin County end the practice of sending youth to correctional facilities and we're calling for an immediate court review of all youth in these placements currently,” said Malaika Hankins, with Legal Rights Center.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services investigation following Frederick’s death found 10 licensing violations at Lakeside, according to the state’s website.

“Lakeside Academy was used frequently by Hennepin County to send youth there for juvenile delinquency reasons despite the fact that the Michigan Department of Health and Human services had a documented list of the violations at this facility,” said Hankins.

According to the county, placement to a residential facility through the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation is court-ordered following a violation of the law. If the offense was substance-use related, a youth may be ordered into a chemical dependency treatment program. Or, if it was a violent incident, a judge may order a behavioral health program.

“The goal is always to keep youth close to home using treatment providers that are in or near the community they live in, however there are rare occasions when a youth has very specific needs that cannot be met by treatment providers in MN,” said Collins. “For some very specialized needs, there are only a handful of treatment options available throughout the country.”

Youth can also be placed in residential treatment programs through the Hennepin County Department of Human Services.

According to the county, those youth can be referred by a therapist or case manager but a screening team must diagnose the child before placement and identify “that a high level of care is needed.”

Human Services did not have anyone placed at Lakeside at the time of Frederick’s death, according to spokesperson Maria Baca. She said they have placed two youths there since 2017, the last left during the summer of 2019.

According to Baca, Human Services currently has 35 youth in a residential treatment program, including 13 youth who are out of state.

“Minnesota has a dearth of residential treatment options for youth with complex needs, and certain circumstances require specialized care that is not available or readily accessible in-state,” said Baca. “Any placement that goes beyond 165 days requires court oversight.”

Hankins urges state and county lawmakers to invest in community programs and resources.

“So that our youth can be safe here so that we can build out a network of care to keep them safe at home,” she said. 

Kevin Reese, who founded the organization Until We Are All Free, joined others in calling for an end to out-of-home placements entirely.

“We’re sending them out of state where it's harder for their family members to stay in contact with them, it's harder for the family members to know exactly what's going on with them day to day,” said Reese. “We need to completely end the practice of taking children out of their homes and placing them in the custody of this system.”

According to the most recent state report, more than 16,000 children experienced out-of-home care in 2018, whether for juvenile corrections, child protection, mental health treatment or for developmental disabilities.

African American children were 2.9 times more likely than white children to experience care.

“We ask for not only a ban on the out of home placement of all Black children but a ban on the termination of parental rights and the immediate signing of the African American Preservation Act into law,” said Kelis Houston, with Village Arms.

Houston advocated for the legislation last session, however, it did not pass.

She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it would require social services to make an effort to place children with relatives first, before strangers.

“The bill would stop the court’s ability to terminate the parental rights of Black parents based solely on their inability to complete their case plan,” said Houston. “There’s just no way families that are already struggling with issues related to poverty and homelessness, at times using public transportation to get all of these things done, to meet the requirements of those case plans. It’s unrealistic and it’s a set up.”

According to Houston, it would also allow parents reinstatement of their rights no matter how old their child is or how long they’ve been in foster care.

Katie Bauer, the public information officer for Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, sent KSTP the following statement:

"A young person’s death is a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the family and friends of Cornelius Frederick as they grieve his loss. At the Minnesota Department of Human Services, we are committed to building family preservation resources and refine practices to better support youth safely remaining in their home with family or guardians. When that can’t safely be achieved, we are striving to ensure that they are living with family or kin with necessary services and supports to keep them connected to their community. We are deeply committed to securing the necessary community resources and services to support families staying together when that can safely be achieved. We will continue to workwith our partners to address the disparate impacts in our child protection system and ensure the system works for all children and families."

Below is the full statement from the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation:

"Hennepin County juvenile justice leaders continue to meet with and listen to the concerns of the Legal Rights Center and other community members regarding the juvenile justice system. 

"Following the tragic death of Cornelius Frederick Lakeside Academy, the Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation immediately removed all Hennepin County youth who had been placed at the facility. Since then, the department has permanently suspended all future placement of youth at Lakeside Academy. 

"Preserving the health, safety and wellbeing of all whom we serve is a cornerstone of our department’s work. We share many of the same concerns as the Legal Rights Center and other community members regarding youth in the juvenile justice system, which is why we continually evaluate our services to find opportunities for system enhancements, improvements and reforms. For that reason, we welcome all ideas from these groups and others."


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