A week after winning a contentious Democratic primary election, Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden fired the chief of the office’s juvenile unit Wednesday, sparking concern among community activists that he plans to roll back successful efforts to divert youth from the criminal justice system.
Michael Glennon, who worked in the district attorney’s office for 11 years, confirmed his forced resignation in an interview Friday. Glennon said he was “so proud of the accomplishments that me and my team have made over the last few years, and of our smart-on-crime and thoughtful approach to prosecution.”
“The relationships we’ve built between the office and community and the ability to use community-based interventions has been so important to serve the youth and young adults that we work with,” he said. “We’ve made the community safer while creating less future barriers for our young people.”
Glennon said he hopes to see the work continue in the district attorney’s office, and “hope to myself continue this work in the future.”
James Borghesani, a spokesman for Hayden, declined to comment on the termination, but told the Globe the office’s “commitment to juvenile diversion” remains the same and that residents should not expect to see any decrease in the number of juvenile cases being diverted. In a given year, more than 60 percent of all juvenile complaints are diverted, according to the office’s website, in what advocates have called a worthwhile effort to steer youth away from the criminal-legal system and toward social service-based programs.
“We’re not reducing the juvenile unit in any way,” Borghesani said. “If anything, we’re strengthening it.”
Public scrutiny of Hayden’s policies has intensified after he beat progressive candidate Ricardo Arroyo, a Boston city councilor and the favored candidate of reformists, in a nasty Democratic primary election to replace former Suffolk district attorney Rachael Rollins, who was tapped in January to be US attorney for Massachusetts. Hayden was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to replace Rollins. With no opponent in the November general election, Hayden is slated to start serving his own full term in January.
Despite leaning toward more moderate policies, Hayden has also previously told the Globe that he embraced criminal justice reforms. “The notion … that I’m going back to traditional prosecution, nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
On the campaign trail, he often directly cited Glennon’s work with juvenile diversion as evidence of his commitment to reform.
As chief of the juvenile unit, Glennon played a key role in building and expanding the Juvenile Alternative Resolution program, a community partnership created in 2017 to offer intensive and individualized services to young people as an alternative to prosecution.
His termination was seen as a warning flag among several criminal justice reformists who worry the move signals a step back in time to a more hardline, prosecution-first response.
“That’s alarming to us,” said Andrea James, founder of the criminal-legal reform organization Families for Justice as Healing. “It gives us trepidation that he is going to roll back time in terms of being a prosecutor’s prosecutor.”
“I’m alarmed just because [Glennon] is someone who’s been really committed to this work,” added Ruth Zakarin, an advocate for gun violence reduction and juvenile justice. “If we want to make sure that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office is committed to juvenile diversion, we don’t want to see a disruption in those services, and we also want to make sure that whoever is leading the effort is really grounded in the practice and believes in it.”
Leon Smith, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, said he’s worked alongside Glennon for years and was “shocked and dismayed” to learn of his termination.
“This firing raises serious concerns that the district attorney’s office will move away from research-backed practices that are best for both young people and public safety, and revisit failed approaches that have proven time and again to produce worse outcomes for young people,” he said.
Smith called on Hayden to publicly release the office’s data on diversion as evidence of his promise to continue working toward juvenile justice.
Some elected officials, however, cautioned against viewing a single staffing change as indicative of a broader shift in policy.
Hayden is “committed to pathways outside of prosecution, particularly for juveniles, and a personnel decision or outcome isn’t going to affect that,” said state Senator Nick Collins, a Democrat from South Boston who endorsed Hayden for district attorney prior to the Sep. 6 primary election.
State Senator Lydia Edwards, a Democrat from East Boston who also endorsed Hayden, stressed that “just because someone is gone doesn’t mean the program leaves with them.”
Edwards also affirmed her belief in Hayden’s commitment to diversion, pointing to his recent investment of an additional $400,000 into the office’s Services Over Sentences program, started under the Rollins’ administration. The initiative focuses on providing those who struggle with substance use disorder and housing insecurity with social services as an alternative to prosecution and incarceration.
Zakarin said she hopes the office will maintain a sincere commitment to juvenile diversion that draws on the lived experience of those most affected. She stressed the importance of having an office willing to “hear what they think needs to happen” and “default to care and concern as opposed to carceral responses for young people.”