Ramsey County to hold public meetings on initiative to keep students out of juvenile justice system

January 09, 2019 07:27 AM

A Ramsey County program intended to keep kids out of jail is getting push-back from the community.

The joint powers agreement between Ramsey County, the city of St. Paul, St. Paul Public Schools, Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District and law enforcement was approved in May.


It allows the agencies to share student information.

"Where are we going wrong with these kids?," said Scott Williams, the deputy county manager for the safety and justice service team, in May. "Where did we miss an opportunity early in their lives to keep them out of the criminal justice system?"

RELATED: Ramsey County program tries to keep young people out of jail

He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS then that they planned to look at changes, for example, in student attendance, grades or disciplinary action. The agreement also includes working with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency to determine currently gaps in services, and what additional help students need to stay on track.

Eight months later, the joint powers board hasn't met and the county said there are no meetings scheduled. There is also a growing push to have it dissolved.

“There was no community involvement in this,” said Dianne Binns, the president of St. Paul NAACP. “The community didn't know anything about this.”

She said the agreement is too vague. Binns told KSTP she’s concerned it doesn't specify what data will be collected and how it will be used.

“Who will get that data and why do we need that data in the first place,” she said.

Binns also feels it should outline specific resources for students.

“Housing, schooling, employment-- those sorts of things,” she said. “You need to have those wraparound services before you start collection of data.”

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She is fighting the agreement along with the group Stop the Cradle to Prison Algorithm Coalition.

The group’s founder, Laura LaBlanc, said she wants to see limitations on how the data can be used. She’s concerned it will contribute to racial profiling and funnel more students to prison.

Binns sent a letter to city, county and school district leaders in August outlining her concerns.

On Oct. 5, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter issued a letter in response. The letter was also signed by Commissioner Jim McDonough and Superintendent Joe Gothard.

It read, in part, “At this juncture, in response to the feedback we have heard from you, and others in our community, including the substantial concerns that have been raised related to predictive analytics, and the potential harm from misuse of the data, we have decided to revise our timeline to allow for more community input.”

We reached out to city, county and school officials on Tuesday for a status update.

A Ramsey County spokesperson sent 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS a response. It said, in part, “As we have done community outreach, we have heard specific concerns about predictive analytics and the potential for racial profiling. We’ll continue to engage with community in public meetings in February and March to help determine next steps on this effort.”

We asked Binns if that response is adequate.

"No not really, I think what needs to happen is we need to have a guarantee there's going to be resources to help the kids that need help," she said. "We intend to fight this."

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Callan Gray

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