February 2023

Reprinted with permission from Concordia College. View the original article, which was published on Dec. 12, 2022.

L to R: Eric Johnson, Tony Berndt, Jade Rosenfeldt, Matuor Alier, Brian Melton, and Lt. Bill Ahlfeldt
L to R: Eric Johnson, Tony Berndt, Jade Rosenfeldt, Matuor Alier, Brian Melton, and Lt. Bill Ahlfeldt

Jade Rosenfeldt ’05 has experienced the criminal justice system from multiple angles. When she was in high school, she was the victim of a violent crime and went through a police investigation and court proceedings. After graduating from Concordia College with a social work degree, she attended law school at the University of North Dakota and later worked as a defense attorney. She is now a judge for Minnesota’s Seventh Judicial District.

Through those experiences, she sees potential for improving the criminal justice system — something she’s made her mission.

“Our system is not focused on preventing people from entering the system,” Rosenfeldt said. “Our system’s focus has always been, what do we do after they get here? How do we punish them? How do we rehabilitate them? We have to change that focus. We have to go uphill. How do we get them from not entering the system?”

Rosenfeldt was one of the panelists speaking at the Lorentzsen Center for Faith and Work’s conversation series event titled “Building a More Trustworthy Criminal Justice System: A Fargo-Moorhead Perspective.” The other panelists were Lt. Bill Ahlfeldt, Fargo Police Department Specialized Services Unit Commander; Matuor Alier, Director of Equity and Inclusion, Moorhead Area Public Schools; Brian Melton ’91, Clay County Attorney; Tony Berndt, Concordia pre-law student; and Eric Johnson ’82, Director of Alumni Relations at Concordia, JAG Corps with the U.S. Navy. Johnson also moderated the event.

Fargo Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney (center)
Fargo Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney (center) was among the guests at the panel discussion.

“The American criminal justice system has been at the center of political and cultural controversies,” said Dr. Michael Chan, executive director for Faith and Learning. “Issues have emerged around everything from use of force policies and practices to the impact of incarceration among minority communities.”

To address the issues, Chan and Johnson worked together to create the panel event that explored growth and challenges the system still faces.

A point of growth that Melton addressed was the increase in translation services in Minnesota, from more official government documents in multiple languages to more cultural liaison officers.

Those improvements can be crucial for New Americans who may be suspicious of police, which can stem from experiences in other countries.

“Where I come from, when police come for a relative of yours, you don’t see that person again,” said Alier, who was born in South Sudan during the Civil War. Alier added with much higher rates of incarcerated minorities, there are systemic issues that need to be addressed with education, increased diversity in law enforcement, and continued community engagement.

Lt. Ahlfeldt with the Fargo Police Department is on the front lines of the battle of distrust in the system. He said there is a lot of work being done to improve strained relationships.   

“The key is communication,” Ahlfeldt said. “It’s education. It’s listening to all sides. It’s not polarizing. It’s coming in, meeting in the middle, and finding a place we can compromise that works well for everyone. It’s treating people with respect. In that listening — that communication — that’s where we find ways to do that.”

One of the main issues the panelist agreed upon was the need for increased addiction and mental health resources.

“Our system is broken for treating mental health,” Rosenfeldt said. “We have too many individuals that are entering our criminal justice system because there isn’t another solution for where to bring someone in a mental health crisis. We need mental health facilities that can help these individuals. That is where we need help.”

A recording of the discussion and other conversations in the “Building a More Trustworthy World” series can be found at LorentzsenCenter.com. Read Chan and Johnson’s Letter to the Editor in The Forum newspaper on the event.

For the next Lorentzsen Center community conversation on Jan. 25, Concordia will welcome Kathryn Finney, founder and CEO of Genius Guild, a business creation platform and venture fund that invests in Black entrepreneurs building scalable businesses that serve Black communities and beyond. She is the author of the bestselling book “Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy.”

By Candace Harmon