The teen saw the event advertised on the local news and on social media, but it took a personal nudge to get her through the doors of Juvenile Warrant Forgiveness Day.
For her, Saturday marked a rare return to North Minneapolis, a neighborhood she associates with childhood trauma and usually tries to avoid. She was reluctant to make the trip alone, but when her new therapist urged her to attend the event and resolve her warrant, she eventually agreed: “My therapist told me: The time to get this done is now. Once you turn 18 [the police] can come get you.”
Like many other participants, she walked into Juvenile Warrant Forgiveness Day feeling uncertain and anxious, but by the time she left her face was tired but beaming with relief.
“The public defender was so good and so professional, and you can tell that people in the community really want to help. I’m leaving with so many resources that can help me stay on track. Just look at this purse full of stuff!” she laughed.
On Saturday, September 22, the ACLU of Minnesota, NAACP Minneapolis and other community groups partnered with Hennepin County courts and county agencies to host the first Juvenile Warrant Forgiveness Day. The event gave kids and teens a chance to meet with public defenders, appear before a judge, and resolve their misdemeanor warrants, all without fear of arrest. Possible case outcomes included a new court date, probation, community service and, in some instances, dismissal.
While they waited for their cases to be called, young people and their families browsed the Community Resource Fair, stopping to collect resources on health care, education, housing, mental health, chemical dependency, recreation and nutrition. Kids and teens participated in on-site community service projects, building Little Free Libraries and making sandwiches for families in need.
Warrant Day seeks to reverse the criminalization of poverty by showing what happens when the courts help people resolve warrants, rather than further penalize them with escalating fines and threats of arrest.
Navigating the court process can be difficult enough for adults, who have to juggle challenges such as jobs, childcare and transportation issues with scheduling court dates. But the process can be even more challenging for young people who may have little support and limited access to resources like reliable transportation. This means that young people are especially vulnerable within our two-tiered system of justice, where consequences are often the most serious for those with the fewest resources and the least support.
Asked what barriers may prevent kids and teens from taking action to resolve misdemeanor warrants, Adesola Jaiyesimi, a Youth Equity and Innovation Manager with Hennepin County Juvenile Probation who participated in the event, noted that some teens may not fully grasp the importance of resolving misdemeanor warrants.
“Young people may not have the same gravity of concern as adults, who have a keener awareness of potential consequences,” she explained. “We want them to understand, to think, how will this affect me.”
For many young people, overwhelmed support systems and lack of trust in the criminal justice system may present even more significant obstacles.
“Support is a big thing,” Jaiyesimi said, pointing to kids and teens who attended the event all by themselves. “Even things like transportation can certainly be an obstacle, for young people to get on a bus and get themselves there when no one is helping them or telling them that they have to.”
She acknowledged that fear of arrest remained a significant deterrent for young people and their families, a concern echoed by kids and teens who attended the event.
“I wasn’t too concerned, because my warrant was for a minor thing,” a teen boy said. “But people are afraid of being arrested, for sure.”
He believes that word of mouth may be the most effective way to spread the word about Warrant Day and establish a climate of trust around the event. Fortunately, he intends to be at the forefront of that effort.
“I am definitely going to tell people [about Warrant Day],” he said.