The District Attorney’s Youthful Diversion Program offers certain first-time offenders between the ages of 17 and 21, an alternative to the court system. The program is based on the widely accepted belief that not all cases are best handled through formal criminal 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 Youthful Diversion Program has successfully served Essex County since 1995. Participation in the Youthful Diversion Program is voluntary. If the youth chooses not to participate in the program, the case will go forward through the court system.
Cases are referred to the Youthful Diversion Program before the court issues criminal complaints. If a youth is appropriate for the program, the Juvenile Justice Coordinator will meet with the youth and execute a signed agreement for their participation in the Program. If the youth is under the age of 18, a parent or guardian must be present to sign the contract.
Once accepted into the Program, the youth participates in appropriate counseling/education, and community service projects. If a case involves property damage, the youth may also be held responsible for restitution.
Each case is supervised by the District Attorney’s Juvenile Justice Staff. The Juvenile Justice Staff is responsible for monitering counseling, community service and restitution.
If the youth successfully completes the program, the District Attorney will not prosecute the case, and the youth will not have a court record. If the youth 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 Youthful Diversion Program
The Youthful Diversion Program is designed to identify and address high-risk behavior and to prevent further involvement of a youth in the criminal justice system.
As part of his or her involvement in the Youthful 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 the youth. However, the youth may choose an individual counselor by speaking to their primary care physician or health insurance provider.
Once a counselor has been chosen, the youth must contact the District Attorney’s Office 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 Youthful Diversion Program, participants are required to volunteer at a community agency or non-profit organization. Community service provides participants with the opportunity to “give back” to the community.
A list of community service sites will be offered. However, the youth may choose another site pr project; subject to approval by the Juvenile Justice Coordinator.
The Youthful Diversion Program follows the state guidelines and collects any out-of-pocket expenses and/or 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 owe for restitution and where to send the bank check or money orders.
Preparing for the future
All cases entering Youthful 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.