Early Intervention and Prevention
Juvenile Alternative Resolution
The Juvenile Alternative Resolution program of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office was launched in February 2017 with half a dozen community-based agencies to provide individualized services to young people as an alternative to traditional prosecution. In 2018, the program doubled in size with more service providers to divert more young people away from the criminal justice system.
Historically, juvenile diversion in Massachusetts has been geared toward first-time and low-level offenders, and it’s been limited in the services available to promote post-diversion success. The JAR program envisioned something more ambitious – something that would re-direct the lives of young people charged with more serious offenses, even high-risk teens. Prosecutors sought out partners who could offer individualized services for a wide range of needs – with a shared goal to divert young adults outward, away from the criminal justice system, instead of upward and deeper into it.
In its first year, the JAR program took in 45 young people who received supervision, support, and services through one or more community partner agencies. Of that number, 12 had successfully completed the program and 31 were on track to do so.
Together, the 45 participants accounted for 100 offenses. Almost two-thirds of those offenses were classified as “crimes against the person,” including assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, unarmed robbery, and other charges. Some were as young as 11, but about half were 16 or 17 years old. About 60% of the juveniles were from Dorchester or Roxbury, about two-thirds were male, and almost all were youth of color.
Participants are also showing significant drops in the risk and need factors they had when they entered, reflecting a course correction in the trajectory of their lives. Because JAR-eligible delinquency complaints are placed on hold upon entry to the program and dismissed upon completion six to nine months later, the cases never appear on the participants’ juvenile records.
By expanding the available partners, prosecutors hope to double the program’s capacity in the year to come – and continue to accept even juveniles who have prior system involvement and face moderate- to high-level charges. The goal was to reduce juvenile involvement in the criminal justice system in Suffolk County – and the barriers to social, academic, and employment success that can follow.
In addition to formal diversion through the JAR program, first-time and low-level juvenile offenses are informally diverted every day by Suffolk prosecutors. Throughout the year, almost 60% of the county’s delinquency complaints were diverted, with diversions outnumbering youthful offender indictments by more than 10 to one.
That’s as it should be, prosecutors said: some crimes are extremely serious and some offenders pose a danger to the community. But most kids and teens come to us with minimal records for minor offenses – better suited to the justice of an angry parent than the Juvenile Court. The JAR program is for youth in between, whose actions are more serious but don’t include gun violence, sexual assault, or serious bodily injury.
The first group of community partner agencies included Action for Boston Community Development’s Changing Tracks Initiative, the Justice Resource Institute SMART Team, MissionSAFE, the Salvation Army’s Bridging the Gap program, the RFK Children’s Action Corps Detention Diversion Advocacy Program, and UMass Boston. The second wave of providers included a collection of youth service programs offered through Action for Boston Community Development, the Charlestown Coalition’s Turn It Around program, More Than Words, and YouthConnect.
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:
Self-assessment of Strengths, Talents and Interests
Job-seeking and Financial Planning
Self-Esteem and Peer Pressure
Anger Management and Decision Making
Violence and Gangs
Culture and Diversity
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, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office 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 the DA’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.
Having seen first hand the success of problem-solving specialty courts, the Suffolk DA’s office 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.