In 2017, two 14-year-old girls were stopped for shoplifting at Eden Prairie Center. The officer investigating the case and the store’s security officer agreed that the girls should be referred to the EPPD’s juvenile diversion program where, in lieu of going to court, first-time young offenders who have committed minor crimes meet with people impacted by their crime.
At the meeting, the incident is discussed and all parties are asked for their thoughts on what happened. At the end of each conference a contract is agreed upon by all in attendance which the offender must complete prior to an agreed upon deadline. Dispositions from juvenile diversion conferences typically include both restitution and community service.
At this particular conference, the girls and their parents met with a representative from the store, along with one of the EPPD’s juvenile diversion officers. As the incident was discussed, one of the girls shared that she was struggling with depression. As a result, her diversion contract included a commitment to attend therapy sessions arranged by her parents.
The second girl divulged that although she had initially told her parents that the shoplifting incident was isolated, in reality she had committed previous thefts in other malls. Consequently, her contract included restitution to various stores and written letters of apology. Through the diversion process, the girl’s family became aware of a much larger theft problem which may not have been revealed had she gone through the court system instead.
The EPPD’s juvenile diversion program was started in 2006. At the end of February 2018, the program conducted its 500th family conference. During that time, the conferences covered 677 cases involving 958 offenders. The recidivism rate for offenders who have gone through the program is approximately 12%, which is below the national average of 20% for teenagers. Diversion is designed as a one-time offering and juveniles are warned that if they re-offend, they will need to appear in Hennepin County juvenile court.