Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Race & Juvenile Delinquency

Racial disparities in juvenile sentencing - The news media (e.g., Pioneer Press) reported the results of a Wilder Research study of this issue in Dakota County. For example, black youths make up 3% of young people in Dakota County, but 21% of the young people in the criminal courts and corrections systems.

Other studies, in Minnesota and elsewhere, have produced similar, overall findings; those findings are not particularly surprising. However, what's notable - and very commendable - for the Dakota County commitee of public officials who are studying the issue are two features of their initiative.

First, the research did not just stop at identifying disparities; it dug deeply to identify potential causes. What might be the factors that explain these differences? What occurs in the system, and where, to produce the differences? The study showed, for example, that black youth did not commit more serious crimes than white youth committed.

This type of in-depth look is rare; the willingness of public officials to take such a look is admirable.

Second, this study will not receive some publicity and then move off the radar screen. The committee intends to determine how things can become better, and take action. They have committed themselves to research, learning, and improvement. They want to make fair decisions, in the public interest, based on sound research evidence. They seem open to doing their part, and also to inviting others to collaborate with them.

It will be exciting to work with them and to see how they do this.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Homelessness - New Research

Wilder's most recent research related to homelessness received attention in the newspapers today. You can find articles in both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.

Among the major findings is the fact that the total number of homeless persons in the state may have remained stable over the past three years. Of concern, though, are statistics showing such things as the large number of children who are homeless, the increase in mental illness, and the number of veterans who are homeless.

I'll have more comments in future blogs, but I wanted you to know about these news items. Dr. Greg Owen, the study director, will participate in some live events this week, on Minnesota Public Radio, for example, and on other radio and TV stations. If you have thoughts or comments, please let me know.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Community Issues - from the "Executive of the Year"

In remarks at a recent lunch in her honor as The Business Journal's "Executive of the Year", Mary Brainerd highlighted three significant community issues.

The first of these is the importance of addressing social and economic disparities in order to maintain the economic vitality of the Twin Cities region. Our region can make substantial, long-term progress only if all residents have opportunities to participate as productive community members. Reports from the Itasca Project, which is primarily a coalition of business leaders, have shown that reducing disparities is not only the morally right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do for economic growth.

The second issue is that mental illness is a major, unaddressed problem. Addressing it effectively will require collaborative action among health care systems, community organizations, government, and others. As a member of the Board of the Hamm Clinic, I've heard first hand from our Executive Director, Dr. Jim Jordan, and others about the need to work together to conquer mental illness - in an environment where the issues have not yet become understood by most members of the community and where health care systems often cannot yet provide comprehensive and specialized treatment.

Third, she pointed to the high cost of health care. This cost stresses everyone: health care providers; insurers; government; business; and, of course, all of us as individual patients. In the opinion of many people (I assume Mary Brainerd is included.), we should have the highest quality and most accessible health care in the world. Sadly, we do not. Issues of cost, disagreement over who ought to pay, and other bureaucratic and legal obstacles have gotten in our way.

Ms. Brainerd wants to champion these issues. I'm very pleased that someone of her competence and character is doing so. (A business executive with degrees in both philosophy and management - maybe that's why she's so effective.) As testimony from several community leaders at the lunch indicated, many others throughout the Twin Cities are pleased as well!