Pandemic affected local youth behaviors

Karen Newman 

“We hear a lot about different impacts the Covid pandemic has had and we certainly know there was an impact on juveniles,” declared Clay County Attorney Brian Melton as he kicked off an informative presentation to the County Commission at their October 26 meeting. He continued, “Last year there was an impact in how kids went to school. Now, with kids being back in school on a regular basis, inside the school themselves, I thought it would be good to come to talk to you about diversion programs that we do within our offices and in Victim Services.”

Michelle Olsonoski is a staff member in the Clay County Attorney’s office. She administers the Victim/Witness Program and the Clay County Juvenile Diversion Program. She explained that when a criminal incident, involving a juvenile, occurs in the schools or the community, there are two paths that cases generally take. The case may go directly to juvenile court, ending in dispositional programming. She emphasized that for first-time offenders, avoiding the juvenile court system seems to be effective in preventing recidivism.  “The goal of the diversion is to provide opportunities for youth to keep them out of the court process, help them understand the incident, be accountable for it, recognize the victimization that occurs and to connect them to programs.”

The Clay County Juvenile Diversion Program utilizes three models.  The Consensus Council covers Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and is the Restorative Justice arm of the program. The program coordinates Accountability Conferences where victims meet face-to-face with the perpetrator.

The 3rd Millennium Classroom Program is utilized nation-wide.  It consists of Online Intervention Programs which are available at $60/course. Some scholarship money may be available through the Juvenile Diversion program. The online programming mainly -focuses on chemical health with specific classes in:

· Under the Influence

·  Marijuana

·  Other Drugs

·  Nicotine

·  STOPlifting

· Parent-Wise (for parent/guardian

Diversion Solutions is a Minnesota program with two specific classes available at $75 each.

· Traffic Education Program (online0

Details driving errors

Information about proper driving techniques

Personal Leadership Class (zoom)

Apply principles to make changes in thought and actions.

Statistics for the year 2020 found 80 local youth referred to the County Attorney Melton’s office.


Juveniles referred in 2020:

· 47 males

· 33 females

2020 Age demographics:

·16-18 years old/37 referrals

·13-15 years old/29 referrals

· 9-12 years old/14 referrals

Race/Ethnicity 2020 Demographics:

· Caucasian-39

· N/A-17

· African American-9

· Hispanic-7

·Indigenous American-7

· Asian-1

Diversion Program 2020 Completion Rate:

·59 individuals/74% participants completed the program

·19 individuals/24% transferred back to referral

· 2 referrals/2% received services elsewhere

The success rate (no further offenses reported) for those who successfully completed the 2020 Juvenile Diversion Program was 96%. The majority of referral sources (35) derived from community offenses such as shoplifting, vaping, tobacco, possession of marijuana and minors.  School-based referrals (34) originated in assault, disorderly conduct, theft, vaping, tobacco and property damage. Clay County juveniles referred in 2020 for offenses committed in Fargo (11) were referred for minors, shoplifting, marijuana and trespassing.

Future plans for the Juvenile Diversion Program include:

· Obtaining Clay County’s official approval for Collaborative Funding Contract for FY22/$27,750

·Conducting a needs assessment withing the community, schools and juvenile justice system

· Providing Juvenile Diversion Awareness training to staff at schools and other community institutions, as well as to the general public

Olsonoski assured the commissioners that her office will be searching for additional funding sources to maintain juvenile services.

Complimenting Melton and Olsonoski for the low recidivism rates, Commission Chair Kevin Campbell said, “This is really encouraging.”

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