A year ago, prosecutors in Suffolk County launched an effort to give second chances to young offenders who were at risk of becoming entangled in the criminal justice system.
This wasn’t a program for youth facing minor legal infractions, said District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. Instead, prosecutors focused the Juvenile Alternative Resolution program on young people who faced serious charges or may have had an earlier brush with the law.
Early indications suggest the initiative is paying off, Conley said Tuesday as he announced plans to expand the program and introduced new partners.
“This has really been an effort to chart a new course and new ground in juvenile justice,” Conley said during a luncheon at his Boston office.
Prosecutors selected 45 juveniles for the program’s first year, giving them the opportunity to avoid prosecution by participating in job training, mental health treatment, and education programs for six to nine months.
This year, Conley hopes to double the initiative’s enrollment. New organizations are also being added to the program, including the Charlestown Coalition, YouthConnect, and More Than Words.
Twelve participants have successfully completed the program so far, and 31 others are on track to finish, he said. They faced criminal charges for offenses like unarmed robbery, assault and battery, and drug possession, but they are shielded from prosecution if they fulfill all the requirements and stay out of trouble, officials said.
Two participants were removed after they were arrested on new charges for gun offenses, Conley said.
Last year, the district attorney’s office handled about 965 juvenile cases, including about 430 that never made it to trial, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman. Juveniles accused of sex offenses or facing gun charges and those who are accused of violent crimes causing serious injury are not eligible.
One case that was referred to the new program involved a 15-year-old who was accused of stealing a car.
“The DA gave me a second chance. It’s been amazing ever since,” the boy said. The district attorney’s office requested that his name be withheld because he’s a juvenile.
In November, the teenager began working with Jennifer Calderon, a youth advocate at the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps in Fields Corner.
Calderon said she began visiting the eighth-grade student at Jackson/Mann K-8 School in Brighton and gave him a journal to record his thoughts. She introduced him to the recording studio at the Boys & Girls Club in South Boston, where he writes and records rap music.
He said he completed an apprenticeship at the Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, the practice facility for the Boston Bruins, and has begun a job-training program in Roxbury.
“[He] has been doing amazing — showing up to school, meeting with his therapist as scheduled, and keeping up with his curfew,” Calderon said. “He’s been doing very well.”
He is scheduled to complete the program in May, she said.
Standing at a podium in the library at Conley’s office, the teenager performed a rap number he wrote before a crowd of lawyers and advocates.
They gave him a standing ovation.Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.