Berkshire DA Expands Program To Keep Young Offenders Out Of The Courts
The Berkshire County District Attorney's office has started a Juvenile Justice Unit and is expanding a program that diverts young offenders from the courts.
"We need to treat kids like kids, not just at home and at school, but in our criminal justice system," District Attorney Andrea Harrington said Tuesday.
People under 18 who have committed "low level" crimes such as disturbing the peace, vandalism or trespassing will be evaluated by a social worker at the DA's office to determine if they are eligible for diversion.
The young person could be offered the chance to sign an agreement, requiring them to attend school, get a job, go to counseling, or attend programs like those offered at the Boys & Girls Club.
If they don't fulfill the agreement, they could be arraigned.
"We need to address the root cause of kids' minor offenses rather than subjecting them to prosecution and incarceration, that research shows will lead youth to a cycle of reoffending," Harrington said.
"We have previously tried this informally," Dalton Police Chief Jeff Coe said. "We now have a strong partner and a clear, formal process."
The program would not apply to certain offences, such as operating under the influence, arson or sexual assault.
As part of the new Juvenile Justice Unit, an advisory committee made up of Pittsfield law enforcement, representatives from community organizations and the public schools will recommend policies and review data to make sure juveniles are treated fairly.
"It will give young offenders the opportunity to right what they have wronged," said Shirley Edgerton, a Pittsfield public schools cultural proficiency coach. "The victim will be made whole and have a meaningful role in the process."
Harrington said the initiative comes out of the Criminal Justice Reform Act, passed by Massachusetts lawmakers last year.