Alternative sentencing programs provide hope for juvenile offenders

Growing up, every Minnesota resident can likely recall doing something they shouldn't have done and that may have even been illegal. From underage drinking to breaking and entering, teens sometimes make mistakes that can have serious and far-reaching implications.

In Hennepin County, cases involving teens under the age of 18 who are facing criminal charges are handled in Juvenile Court and treated as delinquency matters. From misdemeanors to felonies, a juvenile court judge presides over the cases and, if found guilty, makes decisions related to the sentencing terms of juvenile offenders.

In some juvenile criminal cases involving a conviction or guilty plea, a teen may be sentenced to serve time at a secure detention center. In felony cases where a teen is at least 14 years old, he or she could be tried as an adult and sentenced accordingly. In other cases involving nonviolent crimes, a teen may be sentenced to participate in and complete an alternative rehabilitation program.

The Wilderness Endeavors program at Togo is one alternative sentencing program that serves Minnesota teens that may otherwise become lost in the criminal court system. From a three week outdoor adventures program to a three month residential program, these types of alternative sentencing programs aim to provide juveniles with the life and coping skills necessary to make better choices in their lives.

Alternative sentencing programs' focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment is crucial. A teenage boy or girl who may have committed a crime has his or her whole life ahead. It's imperative, therefore, that the legal and court systems work to help these juveniles succeed.

Source: Minnesota Judicial Branch, "Juvenile Court," 2014

Minnesota Department of Corrections, "Minnesotat Correctional Facility - Togo," 2014

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