Diversion program bringing together juvenile offenders and victims to avoid the justice system: ‘It’s an incredible gift’ – WCCO

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minnesota (WCCO) — We have heard a lot recently about young people who commit crimes and are reintegrated into the community. And we have heard the indignation of the victims.

There is a program with the Eden Prairie Police Service that brings offenders and victims together. It’s called diversion. The goal is to keep children and young adults out of the justice system and to help them understand how their actions hurt someone.

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WCCO has experienced firsthand the impact it has had on many lives.

Letters of regret and apology fill a file.

“Receiving that wake-up call was almost like a blessing in disguise.”

“We would like to apologize to a lot of people for a stupid and immature thing we did last summer.”

“You were one of the few people who could see the potential in a 15-year-old who made an incredibly bad decision.”

These are letters from young delinquents who got a second chance, like Melody Isaman’s daughter.

“She was caught shoplifting just before she turned 18, and I don’t know why,” Isaman said. “I don’t even think she knows why she did it to this day.”

Her daughter was able to go through what is called a diversion program. In Eden Prairie, it’s where an officer and a victim agree on an alternative to the justice system.

“She had to do pretty intensive work and volunteer work and that was a wake-up call, a big moment,” Isaman said.

Randy Thompson started the city program 17 years ago.

(credit: CBS)

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“It gives the offender a chance to restore the victim and the victim to be able to explain to the offender how his actions affected him. It’s really powerful in that it allows victims and offenders to talk to each other,” Thompson said.

He says about 75% of cases involve shoplifting. Also included are things like: curfew, chemical and traffic violations, property damage, disorderly behavior and sometimes minor assaults.

“The diversion got them clean records, and now they’re in a place where it got them where they are,” Thompson said.

He says there are 1,200 success stories, but a handful of cases end up in court each year.

“They don’t have a membership, the family doesn’t have a membership in the program. If you don’t have that, it’s pretty tough,” Thompson said.

Guy Henson accepted diversion when he was the victim of a crime. Some teenagers wrapped cellophane between two billboards on a street. He drove his vintage car there, damaging its hood emblem and antenna.

“I said, ‘I get it, you know, I was young too, I did things.’ But I said, ‘It was a little dangerous,” Henson said. “It shouldn’t haunt them for the rest of their lives, and if they learn a little lesson now, when they’re younger, they can work with that and build on that.”

Isaman is grateful that a program like this exists and says her daughter has stayed out of trouble.

“It’s an amazing gift that these kids have the chance to change and make a different choice,” Isaman said.

The age range of participants in the Eden Prairie program ranges from 10 to young adults. They tell WCCO that the recidivism rate is about 12%.

Here are some of the lessons Thompson has learned over the years.

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Other departments, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, have similar programs.

Ryan H. Bowman