MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – This week, some Hennepin County administrators are doing something they’ve never done before, and it could be life-changing for teenagers – they are hosting a warrant forgiveness day.

Rey Khammavongsa, 28, knows the legal system well.

“I’ve been under just about any kind of correction Minnesota really has to offer from rehabilitation centers to prison to jail to treatment centers,” Khammavongsa said.

As a teenager and drug user, he assaulted a fellow student at a party in Rochester.

“I was found guilty and I was guilty, and right away my right to hunt with my Dad was taken away, a felony was on my record,” Khammavongsa said. “It was hard to get jobs after that. My ability to rent is very difficult.”

So when he heard Hennepin County will be forgiving non-felony juvenile warrants, he got excited.

“To have the option of jail kinda not be there and have just ‘this is a safe zone, you can come here, we can get you some help so you can figure out what to do next,’ that would have made me come in on a warrant,” Khammavongsa said.

That’s just the kind of testimony the judge behind the project wants to hear.

“I think it’s really important the community has hope in the justice system. And by hosting an event like this in the community on a Saturday, making it convenient for families, that’s critically important to building trust with the justice system,” said Mark Kappelhoff, a juvenile court judge.

The event will give teens the chance to meet with an attorney and resolve a warrant. There will also be dozens of agencies offering help on finding food, housing, and hope.

“I believe this could be a change for someone’s life,” Judge Kappelhoff said. “They come in, they get a warrant forgiven, they access some services and it could send their life on a whole different trajectory.”

Khammavongsa, who now works at Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, is proof life doesn’t have to be defined by a mugshot.

“I’m sober, I have a great job. I have a great community and my heart is now to give back to people who were in my situation,” Khammavongsa said.

Hennepin County has never done this before. It has been done for adults, but Judge Kappelhoff says kids deserve this chance, too. The event is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 1256 Penn Avenue North in north Minneapolis and will be presented in multiple languages.

There will be games and free food. The idea is to make it approachable and accessible to for anyone to make life changes and get support.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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