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KARE 11 Investigates: Minnesota’s justice system has failed kids and the public

More than 150 teens charged with violent crimes are re-offenders, KARE 11 found, despite a system that is supposed to protect the public and help kids.

Brandon Stahl (KARE11), Lauren Leamanczyk, Steve Eckert

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Published: 5:21 PM CDT May 25, 2022
Updated: 10:25 PM CDT May 25, 2022

Jalen Watts again sat behind the wheel of a stolen car, this time driving through St. Paul when he and a friend saw 17-year-old Dede Jackson, an acquaintance from school.

She grew up in poverty, pulling herself and her younger siblings up through the foster care system.

Jalen also grew up in poverty, homeless for a time and often surrounded by violence. “A product of his environment,” said Schvonna West, who raised him as a single mother.

She tried in vain to keep him out of trouble. She knew where criminals go – “prison or the grave,” she said. But by age 17, when Jalen spotted Dede, he already had years of history in the juvenile justice system for gun possession, stealing cars, and fleeing police.

Whatever the courts threw at him – juvenile detention, therapy, mentoring, out of home placement – all failed.

That day in April 2020, Dede was with two other girls when Jalen asked them if they wanted to go for a ride. Not knowing the car was stolen, they said yes.

Then while driving, Jalen saw a cop. He floored the gas pedal, hitting up to 88 mph on a city street before losing control and slamming into a tree, slicing the front of the car in half.

Police found Dede, who had been sitting in the back of the car, with her head almost wedged underneath the front seat.  

Credit: KARE 11
Jalen Watts drove this stolen vehicle when he lost control of the car, slamming into a tree and killing 17-year-old Dede Jackson

A few days later, Dede was declared brain dead.

Jalen would go home from the hospital the next day. As police investigated his case, records show, he committed more crimes, including a carjacking and a home invasion.

The courts tried another intervention – sending him to a juvenile prison. But after he got out, police say they found Jalen trying to ditch a loaded handgun.

He’s now in jail facing several years in an adult prison if convicted.  

By law, Minnesota’s juvenile justice system is supposed to protect people like Dede and rehabilitate kids like Jalen.

“The system failed,” said Dede’s mother, Natasha. “It failed Dede. But somewhere along the line it failed Jalen, too.”

“And that failure caused my daughter to die,” she said.

That system not only failed those two, but hundreds of others, a KARE 11 investigation has found.

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