Ababiy: Dealing with crime before it gets too old

Is there room for young people in the public safety budget?

Ababiy%3A+Dealing+with+crime+before+it+gets+too+old

Jonathan Ababiy

Earlier this week, a story that is becoming all too familiar happened again: A St. Paul man stepped away from his car while it was running then watched someone hop in and drive away when he turned around.

A couple days later, St. Paul police spotted the car and were prepared to pull it over until it sped away. They didn’t pursue the car, but it hit another car as it drove off. A few minutes later it hit a light pole and flipped over.

A 14-year-old boy died when he was thrown from the car, while another 14-year-old and a 16-year-old, the driver, were arrested.

I say familiar because this wasn’t the first time a young teen died in a carjacking this fall. In October, three boys, ages 13, 15 and 16, died fleeing Minneapolis police at around 2 a.m. in a chase that lasted just two miles when the boys lost control of their vehicle in a rollover crash.

These boys’ deaths are part of a pattern that has emerged this fall. The Twin Cities have experienced a dramatic increase in carjackings: up 537% in November in Minneapolis compared to last year. This statistic of 537% has come up a lot, but there is another one tied to it that is just as dramatic and important: 75% of solved Minneapolis carjackings were committed by juveniles. For a Nov. 24 story, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office told KARE 11 that it had already charged 27 juveniles since July.

This is devastating because juvenile incarceration greatly increases the likelihood of incarceration as an adult. Amid the devastation Minneapolis has experienced this year, this is some of the most long-lasting damage. With school online and nowhere to go, young people are turning to crime, with little tangible preventive effort from the city.

Seriously — this fall, 27 teenagers may have started a lifelong journey in the criminal justice system.

Cubic tons of ink have been spilled on the city’s rising crime rates in the pages of newspapers and Facebook group comments. It’s not a secret. The statistics are grim with violent crimes up dramatically since last year in Minneapolis and in other cities like Milwaukee, Philadelphia and New York City.

The reform-minded Minneapolis City Council has definitely taken the heat for this. It just concluded a political battle with the mayor and police chief to cut $8 million from the next police budget.

But little has been said about a plan for preventing and reintegrating the young people turning to violent crime. More police, like Mayor Frey’s budget calls for, might mean Minneapolis police catch criminals more quickly, but it doesn’t change the factors that led that person to commit a crime or the societal consequences of that crime. Police don’t put victim’s or offender’s lives back together. As the last 30 years of American criminal justice policy have taught us, neither does jail.

The price of a brand new SUV is easily less than the price of one year of prison. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, Minnesota spends $41,366 on a year of prison. Getting better at sending kids into the incarceration pipeline is not a solution. Once the incarceration loop begins, it’s much harder to drag a person out of crime than it was in the beginning.

Our budget should reflect that and ensure that young people get an emphasis in the criminal justice system — ideally one focused on prevention, not prosecution. We will never get back the boys that lost their lives due to the mistakes they made. But, the 27 already charged and those who haven’t been caught yet are still out there in this city, as much a part of it as you or me. They still have a future.

Either we deal with the problems that lead them to the mistakes they made or we pay for it later. I hope it’s the former. We can’t lose any more kids.