RJ Program Profile: Boston, MA Juvenile Alternative Resolution Program
Starting in early 2017 the Suffolk County, Massachusetts District Attorneys Office has a new tool to use to prevent crime, reduce recidivism, and to provideimproved outcomes for victims of crime as well as offenders. The Juvenile Alternative Resolution program was launched by Suffolk County D.A. Dan Conley in cooperation with The Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD) at UMass Boston. One of the initiatives at the CPDD is the Restorative Justice Project developed and directed by Daria Lyman, a Senior Fellow at the CPDD. Lyman approached the Suffolk County District Attorneys Office, which serves most of the city of Boston, with an innovative strategy to address medium level offenses utilizing restorative practices and collaborative justice.
The program begins after a juvenile offender is arrested. However, prior to being arraigned before the Court, the prosecutor assigned to the case may exercise their discretion and refer a case to the Juvenile Alternative Resolution Program. The program is a multifaceted collaboration of youth serving organizations, government agencies, and UMass Boston, intended to divert offenders from the criminal justice system through strategic engagement with offenders and their families, clinical services, youth programming, job skills training, mentorship, restorative justice, and mediation.
Critical to the Juvenile Alternative Resolution program are specific restorative justice processes that provide a cathartic and healing experience for crime victims who choose to participate. The premise of the restorative justice model is that crime creates harm, needs, and relationships, most often involuntary, and these harms should be significantly repaired and needs satisfied by the offender. The offender should be supported in this process of and afforded the opportunity to reintegrate themselves into the community. Rather than relying upon courts and prisons to address the problem of criminality, restorative justice insists that the offender take genuine responsibility for their actions, and to make things right with the victims of their crime as well as the community that was also impacted.
One of the processes employed to accomplish these goals is the use of mediation between the offender and their family, and the victim and their community of care. Also known as the victim offender conferencing, this interaction, facilitated by CPDD staff, allows the offender to confront the harm they have caused and better understand the actual human impact of their actions. It humanizes the person who was harmed and actually teaches empathy to the offender. Victim (and community) participants are able to verbalize their pain, have far greater input into the manner in which the offender will be accountable, and frequently provides information that the victim had been seeking. Often times crime victims wonder if they were singled out, did something wrong that made them a target, or could have done something differently that would have prevented them from being harmed. In the mediation or victim offender conferencing setting, the offender is able to provide these answers and satisfy a need frequently noted by crime victims. These processes virtually always result in improved and more durable and satisfying outcomes for the victim and offenders alike. Program Director Daria Lyman and UMass Boston are responsible for tracking the success of program participants. If successful, Lyman and D.A. Conley envision future expansion of the Juvenile Alternative Resolution program in order to serve more than the 50 case capacity they are currently operating with.
Similar programs are operating around the country. In Harrisonburg, Virginia, a post arrest diversion program is ongoing through a collaboration between Harrisonburg Police ad the Restorative Justice Initiative at The Fairfield Center. Baltimore, Maryland hosts a robust and ambitious juvenile diversion and mediation program that spans throughout the Baltimore city courts and public schools. The Baltimore initiative was featured in an 'Independent Lens' documentary titled "Fixed Juvy Justice". In Seattle, Washing, a diversion program is being piloted that targets adult offenders seeking to reduce incarceration and provide services rather than punishment. The Law Enforcement Aided Diversion (L.E.A.D.) program places discretion in the hands of trained police officers to refer low and medium level offenders to services like counseling, substance abuse treatment, and job training rather than booking them into jail and entering them into the system.
These are just a few of the creative and overdue restorative justice initiatives operating within the U.S. These programs should be recognized and applauded, and the community should rally behind them. More are needed, and the work to expand restorative justice practices continues.
Click here to learn more about the Suffolk Juvenile Alternative Resolution program.