BOSTON, Feb. 3, 2017–Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley joined the University of Massachusetts Boston, juvenile justice professionals, and partners from across the youth advocacy spectrum to announce an ambitious pilot program aimed at diverting juvenile offenders away from the criminal justice system and toward services that will improve their lives and their communities.
“Good morning. I’m Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley. It’s my honor to be your host today as we act on one of the most pressing criminal justice issues of our time: the effective diversion of young offenders – outward, away from the system, instead of upward, and deeper into it. more »
Bridging the Gap Diversion Program
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office works together with the Salvation Army’s Bridging the Gap program by referring first-time juvenile offenders to the program. Bridging the Gap is a juvenile diversion program designed to provide certain court-involved youths between the ages of 12 to 17 with an opportunity to make positive and constructive changes in their lives. Bridging the Gap aims to steer at-risk youths away from crime, violence and substance abuse by providing youths with tutoring, mentorship and positive programs that put young people on an improved life path.
Offenders aged 12 to 17 are offered an opportunity to participate in the program as an alternative to sentencing. Youths who are typically chosen to participate in the program have committed misdemeanors or are first-time offenders. Upon successful completion of the three-month program, their criminal records are cleared. Offenders who participate in the Bridging the Gap program are required to attend two classes each week for three months, during which time, participants in the program receive instruction in the following areas:
Group discussion, brainstorming, videos, worksheets and other activities are used to aid youths in understanding and benefitting from the lesson plan. Members of the community and law enforcement officials are invited as guest speakers to address program participants throughout the course to provide them with different perspectives to demonstrate the effect that crime has on everyone in the community.
Programs that address social development issues in at-risk teens have been shown to be effective in the prevention and intervention of youthful delinquent behavior and have also been shown increase the development of more positive attitudes towards self and others.
Overcoming Violence Curriculum
Ten years after launching the revolutionary Understanding Violence curriculum, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley introduced Overcoming Violence — an accessible, engaging, and yet compelling teaching tool that provides early prevention through education. It features first-hand testimonial from individuals who were actively engaged in, or became victims of, gun and gang related violence. The video is presented as part of a discussion series led by prosecutors, victim witness advocates, and others.
To date, the curriculum has been disseminated throughout dozens of Suffolk County schools, with experienced prosecutors meeting with small and mid-sized groups of schoolchildren to explain the ramifications of violence for offenders and victims.
Community Based Juvenile Justice
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Community Based Juvenile Justice (CBJJ) program is a school-based safety initiative that was established in 1995 in response to the passage of M.G.L. Chapter 12, section 32. The goal of the CBJJ program is to reduce school and community violence by identifying at-risk youth and utilizing proven intervention and prevention strategies to deter them from becoming involved in violent or criminal behavior. Each participating middle and high school has monthly roundtable meetings facilitated by personnel from DA Conley’s office together with school officials, police officers and probation officers. CBJJ roundtables foster positive inter-agency and accountability that are designed to ensure that meaningful intervention occurs with students who are at-risk, steering those students away from dangerous or disruptive behavior. CBJJ utilizes resources within the school, community and courts to provide interventions which aim to effect positive change in participating youths. When intervention strategies do not work, CBJJ ensures that violent and dangerous students are identified early, monitored closely and, where warranted, removed from school.
Project Strength and Spirit
Recognizing the power and respect they command within Boston’s neighborhoods, District Attorney Conley has built bridges to link his office with faith-based partners such as the TenPoint Coalition and Black Ministerial Alliance.
In 2002, District Attorney Conley stood with Boston Police and urban ministers to announce a new strategy to combat witness intimidation: teams of prosecutors, victim witness advocates, police and clergy would contact victims and witnesses whose testimony might be lost to fear and intimidation. These teams would meet in safe locations and offer a network of support within the community, coordinating resources witnesses might need, including safe places to relocate. The strategy also sought to combat the intimidation tactic of gang members packing courtrooms by bringing clergy and other citizens to court to offer support to victims and witnesses.
In 2004 the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office won grant funding to pilot this program and named it Project Strength and Spirit. To date, approximately 35 ministers have been trained, teams have met with witnesses in over 30 cases to help secure truthful testimony and the courtroom support network has been dedicated in a half dozen cases. The results of the pilot phase of this program have been outstanding. Moving forward, District Attorney Conley will seek to expand Project Strength and Spirit to include more widespread and consistent participation by the faith community and the targeted outreach of citizens, including those involved in neighborhood crime watches, to come to court in support of victims and witnesses.
Each week, the chief of District Attorney Conley’s Gang Unit meets with his counterpart at the US Attorney’s Office to review gang activity and non-fatal shootings within their shared jurisdiction. They examine each offense and each offender to determine the best, most appropriate strategy to use in prosecuting each case based on the facts of the case, the weapon or weapons used, and the offender’s prior record.
In some cases, the most appropriate strategy is the strongest sanction. In a case with more mitigating factors, prosecutors may take a less drastic approach. Either way, however, they work with one common goal: to take each case on its merits and ensure that the offender is held to account for his actions.
As an outspoken proponent of problem-solving specialty courts, District Attorney Conley has assigned staff to the Mental Health Court, Drug Court, Homeless Court, and the Boston Veterans’ Treatment Court sessions in Suffolk County. These specialized sessions utilize court supervision to help vulnerable populations comply with treatment plans, maintain sobriety, and resolve their low-level cases with intervention rather than incarceration.