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Carjacking victim advocates for secure treatment homes

Patrick Connolly, whose wife was carjacked, joined Ramsey County justice leaders to ask lawmakers to fund juvenile treatment homes for violent teens.

ST PAUL, Minn — Patrick Connolly looked at lawmakers Thursday and delivered a simple message.

“The system is failing,” he told them.  

Connolly recounted the day in December when three teenagers carjacked his wife as she pulled into their St. Paul garage. Their young daughter was in the back seat.

Connolly says his wife pleaded with the teens to unlock the door and let her get her child. 

“I looked out my kitchen window to see my wife running from my garage with my daughter in her arms, screaming, 'Patrick, they've got guns. They're taking my car and they want yours,'” he said.

All of the teens had lengthy juvenile records. 

“They either should have been in a secure facility or the programming that they went through should have had more of an impact,” Connolly told members of the Minnesota House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

The committee is considering HF600, a bill that would spend $5 million building between five and seven “culturally specific, community-based intensive therapeutic treatment homes” in Ramsey County for youth who’ve been adjudicated delinquent. It also appropriates money to help their families.

The homes would be small – serving just a handful of young offenders – but would be secure. That fills a need KARE 11 Investigates has identified in its series, Juvenile Justice: Failing Victims, Failing Kids.  

In Minnesota, outside of the juvenile prison at Red Wing, there is nowhere to send teens who have violent pasts but also need mental health and rehabilitative treatment. A problem made worse with the closure of Totem Town in St. Paul and the Hennepin County Home School.

“You've got Red Wing on one side and you've got electronic home monitoring on the other,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told lawmakers. He explained that other treatment centers often won’t take kids in the justice system accused of violence – leaving judges, police and even parents with few options.

“We have had so many conversations with parents who are just desperate for help,” Choi said.

The homes would provide a place for youth who cannot safely be treated in the community.

The bill has bi-partisan support and is sponsored by Rep. Kaoholy Vang Her (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-Maple Lake).   

Law enforcement leaders like Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher have also expressed support for the treatment homes.

“Everyone understands the need for this bill,” Rep. Her said.

“Evidence shows this type of intensive therapeutic interventions in small residential places can actually work and so we'd like to give it a try,” said Choi.  “We want the violence to stop.”

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