Early Intervention and Prevention
Juvenile Alternative Resolution
The Juvenile Alternative Resolution (JAR) Program of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office was launched as a pilot program on May1, 2017. JAR began partnerships with six community-based agencies to provide individualized services to young people as an alternative to traditional prosecution. After the one year pilot phase, in May 2018, the program more than doubled in size, adding dozens 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,low-level offenders, and limited in the services available. The JAR program envisioned something more ambitious – a program that would re-direct the lives of young people charged with more serious offenses, including high-risk and high needs teens. The District Attorney’s Office 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 worked with 45 young people who received supervision, support, and services through one or more community partner agencies. Of the first 45 participants,.,41 youth successfully completed the Program.
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’ criminal record.
By expanding the available partners, the District Attorney’s Office has more than doubled the Program’s capacity – and continues to accept juveniles who have prior system involvement and face moderate- to high-level charges. The goal is 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, over 60% of the county’s delinquency complaints were diverted.
Some crimes are extremely serious and some offenders pose a danger to the community, but many young people enter the system 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 firearms offenses, sexual assaults, or serious bodily injury to a victim.
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 that currently have Memorandum of Understanding with the DA’s Office 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.
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.