Teenagers Take First Step Toward Crime- Free Future

Five Graduate D.A. Youth Diversion Pgm.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced that five young males have become the first graduating class of his office’s newest alternative to incarceration program.

The Queens District Attorney’s Youth Diversion Program is a collaborative effort with the Misunderstood Youth Development Center’s Fresh Start Program, a community organization that runs the day-to-day Youth Diversion Program activities and provides staff, case managers and counselors. The graduation ceremony was held last Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gar- dens.

The mission of the Youth Diversion Program is to positively transform the lives of selected young men who are presently involved in the criminal justice system as defendants. This select group of troubled youth is offered an alternative to detention by providing targeted services outside of the criminal justice system. The program incorporates a deferred sentence model with an emphasis on education, counseling and interactive experiences.

“Today’s graduates have taken an extraordinary journey together. They have visited Sing Sing and talked with a corrections investigator about gangs in prison,” Brown said last Wednesday. “They have learned about the Holocaust-and they have listened to a mother who lost her son to violence. They have spent a weekend away at the Poconos Educational Environmental Center-and they have contributed some 850 hours in community service.”

“Four of the five have graduated high school and the fifth is due to graduate in June. They all aspire to go to college. In short, they have taken control of their lives and are building a more promising future for themselves,” the district attorney added. “All those who have helped them on their journey should be proud of what they have accomplished and how far they have come. But no one deserves more credit than the graduates themselves.”

Each Youth Diversion Program class consists of males between the ages of 14 and 19. The class consists of a maximum of 10 individuals with an attempt to equally balance between juvenile offenders and those age 16 and above. The program runs for a minimum of one year, and a new class is assembled every four months.

The Queens District Attorney’s Gang Violence and Hate Crimes Bureau- through its bureau chief, director of juvenile prosecutions and deputy bureau chief-reviews cases and selects potential candidates for the program. The initial selection is based upon several factors, including, the degree of violence involved in the crime, the degree of injury to the victim, the defendant’s role in the crime, his past criminal history and the likelihood of success.

Victims are also consulted about a defendant’s entry into the Youth Diversion Program, with the purpose of seeking their approval.

The Misunderstood Youth Development Center provides a comprehensive psycho-social evaluation and assessment of potential program participants. The assessment is shared with the Queens District Attorney’s office before a final determination is made on whether or not to offer the program to a defendant.

Potential participants with chronic mental health issues or substance abuse addictions are not recommended for the program.

Once selected for the program, the defendant takes a conditional guilty plea to a felony crime. There is a plea agreement that specifically spells out the recommended jail sentence and post-release supervision period in the event that the defendant fails the program. Basic requirements of the program are also included on the agreement.

Successful completion of the program by the defendant will result in an outright dismissal of all charges, or in special cases, some other disposition negotiated at the time of the signing of the agreement.

Among the program’s requirements are that the defendant be placed on interim supervision through the city’s Department of Probation, an electronic monitoring bracelet be worn for a minimum of 90 days, and that random urine testing are conducted and curfews imposed. The defendants must also terminate membership and/or contact with gangs and are required to maintain mandatory timely attendance to all program activities and mandatory attendance to school, a GED program or job, if applicable.

Program participants are given a weekly schedule which requires, at a minimum, attendance at one day of individual counseling, one day of group counseling, one day of com- munity service, and one day of specialized training. The specialized training covers such topics as impact of violence on communities, victim impact presentations, handling peer pressure, getting out of a gang, anger management, health and fitness and many other life skills sessions.

During their enrollment in the program, each defendant’s criminal case is scheduled for a monthly court date in order to update the Court on the defendant’s progress. The Queens District Attorney’s Youth Diversion Program cases are calendared in the Queens Youth Part (TAP A) before Queens County Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters Fernando M. Camacho.

The Queens District Attorney’s Youth Diversion Program partners include the city Department of Education, the city Department of Corrections, the city Department of Probation and the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resources Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College.

The Queens District Attorney’s Youth Diversion Program was developed and implemented by Assistant District Attorneys Mariela Palomino Herring, bureau chief of the District Attorney’s Gang Violence and Hate Crimes Bureau, Michele E. Goldstein, deputy bureau chief, and Elizabeth D. Parke, director of juvenile prosecutions, along with Douglas L. Knight, director of the D.A.’s Alternative Sentencing and Crime Victims Advocate Program, and Senior Case Manager Jason K. Moston.

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