The District Attorney’s Juvenile Diversion Program is a national model that works with certain first-time juvenile offenders between the ages of 7 and 18, and their families, by offering an alternative to the juvenile court system. The program is based on the widely accepted belief that not all cases are best handled through formal delinquency complaints and court hearings. The program provides first-time nonviolent offenders the opportunity to receive services in lieu of being prosecuted through the traditional court process.
The Juvenile Diversion Program has successfully served Essex County since 1981. A diversion program benefits society by dealing early and intensively with juvenile delinquent behavior and reconnecting the juvenile to his or her community.
A juvenile’s participation in the Juvenile Diversion Program is voluntary. If the juvenile chooses not to participate in the program, the case will go forward through the court system.
Cases are referred to the Juvenile Diversion Program before the court issues delinquency complaints. If a juvenile is appropriate for the program, the Juvenile Justice Coordinator will meet with the juvenile and his or her parents or guardian and execute a signed agreement for their participation in the program.
Once accepted into the program, the juvenile participates in appropriate counseling, education, and community service projects. If a case involves property damage, the juvenile may also be held responsible for restitution.
The juvenile’s case will be monitored by the District Attorney’s Juvenile Justice Staff. The Juvenile Justice Coordinator will be responsible for supervising the case and monitoring counseling, community service and restitution.
If the youth successfully completes the program, the District Attorney will not prosecute the case, and the juvenile will not have a delinquency record. If the juvenile does not successfully complete the program or voluntarily withdraws from the program, the case will go forward in court for prosecution.
Major components of the Juvenile Diversion Program
The Juvenile Diversion Program is designed to identify and address high-risk behavior and to prevent further involvement of a youth in the juvenile justice system.
As part of his or her involvement in the Juvenile Diversion Program, a youth is required to participate in a counseling program. The Diversion Program requires a youth to receive a counseling evaluation from a licensed professional and attend recommended individual or group counseling. If, for any reason, counseling is not warranted, the youth would be required to participate in an education group, which may cover important topics including decision-making, high-risk behavior, and alcohol and substance abuse education. The number of sessions that are required will be determined by the counselor.
A list of counseling agencies that work with the program will be provided to families. However, families may choose an individual counselor by speaking to their primary care physician or health insurance provider.
Once a counselor has been chosen, the family must contact this office within one week with the counselor’s name, address, and phone contact information and a referral will be sent to the appropriate agency. A Juvenile Justice Coordinator will also contact the counselor and provide them with information pertinent to the Diversion Program and the program’s requirements. A Juvenile Justice Coordinator will maintain contact with the counselor until the youth has completed the program.
As part of the Juvenile Diversion Program, juveniles are required to volunteer at a community agency or non-profit organization. Community service can provide juveniles with the opportunity to “give back” to the community.
Community Service has a value to the community and can also provide a youth with the understanding that it is important to be an active citizen.
During the intake, the Juvenile Justice Coordinator will discuss any potential volunteer experience and skills to help determine a potential community service site for the juvenile to perform their community service hours.
Youth are required to contact the Juvenile Justice Coordinator regarding their chosen community service site.
The Juvenile Diversion Program follows the state guidelines and collects any out-of-pocket expenses and the replacement cost of damaged or stolen property. If this component is applicable, the Juvenile Justice Coordinator will inform the youth of how much money they will need to pay for restitution and where to send the bank check or money orders.
Preparing for the future
All cases entering Juvenile Diversion are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and sometimes require additional components. These additional components or conditions may include online educational programs, enrollment in GED, technical or college programs and access to job and career training.