Youthful offenders facing drug charges and certain assault crimes could be eligible to participate in a new diversion program aimed at keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office teamed up with eight civic groups to create the Juvenile Alternative Resolution Pilot Program, an initiative designed to divert 50 moderate-to-high-level juvenile offenders accused of such crimes. They would be provided with a variety of services including mental health treatment, counseling, employment, education, and substance abuse.
“We want a young person’s first encounter with the criminal justice system to be their last,” Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said during a news conference Friday announcing the program. “We want to reduce barriers to future success.”
The Suffolk County district attorney’s office handles more than 1,200 juvenile cases a year, and about 25 percent are diverted informally through dismissal, pretrial probation, and in other ways. Such cases usually involve juveniles with minimal records who have committed low-level offenses.
This program “will focus on the cases in the middle of the spectrum, which act as early-warning signs that a young person needs intervention,” said Conley.
Offenders eligible to take part in the new program will either be arraigned and placed on the diversionary track, or not arraigned and have their case placed “on hold,” said Jake Wark, spokesman for the district attorney’s office.
When a juvenile successfully completes the diversionary period, which will last three to nine months, his or her the case will not be prosecuted.
Cases previously arraigned will be dismissed, and cases not arraigned will not be entered on the offender’s record, said Wark.
“We can change a young person’s behavior by addressing their underlying needs,” said Daria Lyman, director of the Restorative Justice Project at UMass Boston.
She said victims will have an opportunity to tell the offender how the crime affected their lives.
If the juvenile does not complete the diversion, the case will be prosecuted.
Juveniles facing sex offenses or gun charges, or who are accused of other violent crimes, will not be eligible for diversion.
The idea is to help youthful offenders before they commit more serious crimes, said Jumaane Kendrick, program director of ABCD Changing Tracks Initiative, a community diversion program.
The McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston will analyze data to measure victim satisfaction, juvenile offender engagement, recidivism, and the success rate of program participants.
“We’re taking one more link, one more chain out of the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Nikki Flionis, executive director of MissionSafe, an organization that works with high-risk youth and a partner in the new program. “We will help youth thrive.”
Jan Ransom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.