MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s a new effort to keep teens out of jail in Hennepin County.

The latest data shows it’s not an equitable place. Black youth make up 58% of juvenile cases prosecuted. Yet, in Hennepin County, only 22% of the entire population of 10 to 17 year olds is Black.

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Sixty-eight percent of Hennepin County’s juvenile cases involve youth of color. College student Sarah Edgington was once part of that system.

“What I’ve seen often is young people of color being put into the system, and then because of that exposure they’ve reentered the system multiple times, when in reality the first initial interaction was really unrealistic and could have been avoided,” Edgington said.

(credit: CBS)

Now out of the system, Edgington is part of a new program, Hennepin County’s Youth Justice Council. Adesola Oni is youth innovation and equity manager for juvenile probation in Hennepin County.

“We’re hoping to really center the voices of those with lived experiences, because they’re the ones who are being more affected, the most affected by this,” Oni said.

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Edgington will be one of several youth — along with mental health providers, school leaders, social workers and more — trying to create a more equitable system.

“We need to be ready to really respond to those barriers in a way that’s meaningful and actually yields the outcomes that we want,” Oni said.

Sarah Edgington (credit: CBS)

Edgington already has some ideas, saying many youth, especially girls, have domestic struggles that could be helped outside of court. She says house arrest prevents kids from getting resources, and she says communication with the youth is key.

“I was extraordinarily frustrated just thinking like no one’s answering questions, no one’s explaining. How has no one asked me if I’m OK? Like, nothing of the sort,” Edgington said.

She’s working to change that, studying political science at Luther College to make change in the future, and working through the new council to make change now.

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The program is already peaking major interest, and there’s another public meeting coming up on Feb. 17. Click here to share your input.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield