1996 Finalist
City of Anoka, Minnesota
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In the early 1990s, Anoka, Minnesota witnessed a rise in the of juvenile crime rate. By 1994, Anoka County Juvenile Court had become inundated with more juvenile cases that the judges and probation officers could thoughtfully process. As the courts became overwhelmed, police began to notice that the time between the offense and the sentencing was becoming so lengthy that juveniles were failing to understand or even remember the immediate of their actions on the victims. At the same time, police began observing a pattern of low-level first time offenders chronically graduating to increasingly severe crimal action.

The Anoka Police Department decided to aid the Juvenile Courts by taking a more proactive role in reducing juvenile recidivism. A Citizens Anti-Crime Commission (CACC) was first established to evaluate different ways of handling young offenders. The CACC explored different police conferencing strategies, but found Police Family Group Conferencing (PFGC), a technique used frequently in Australian law enforcement, particularly instructive for its emphasis on providing the victims a direct role in the conflict resolution process.

Working in conjunction with Court Services and Probation personnel, the CACC formulated the Juvenile Justice Alternative - Police Conferencing program, based largely on the PFGC model. Within weeks of admitting guilt to a crime, offenders take part in a conference attended by the juvenile's parents or other support group, the victim and their family or support group, as well as a uniformed officer. The officer is specially trained to facilitate this meeting, which is intended to be intense and oftentimes utilizes shame for a positive end. The intended outcome is a fostering of true remorse, as opposed to mere guilt, with the hope that feelings of remorse lend themselves to reduced recidivism.

Police Conferencing uses three criteria to measure its success. It assesses rates of recidivism for those who have undergone police conferences, the satisfaction victims receive from the conferencing process, and the behavior of past offenders, as reported by parents. In the first year of the program approximately seventy juvenile offenders underwent Police Conferencing. In following years only one of those juveniles re-offended. Victims who took part in conferences reported great satisfaction on the whole. Follow-ups with offender's parents conducted four months after the conference regularly show positive behavioral improvements.