Webinar Highlights Prosecutor-Led Juvenile Justice Reforms

Posted February 26, 2020
Juvenile justice reformers learning from other experts

A new webi­nar explores pros­e­cu­tor-led efforts to reform the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem by imple­ment­ing mea­sures that are less adver­sar­i­al and less puni­tive. Pros­e­cu­tors as Lead­ers of Reform fea­tures three pros­e­cu­tors from JDAI® juris­dic­tions — Har­ris Coun­ty, Texas; King Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton; and Philadel­phia — who are using the pow­er of their offices to advance reha­bil­i­ta­tion, fair­ness, equi­ty and accountability.

Har­ris Coun­ty, Texas (home to Houston)

Dur­ing the webi­nar, John Jor­dan, the juve­nile divi­sion chief of the Har­ris Coun­ty, Texas Dis­trict Attorney’s Office not­ed that his office has changed the cri­te­ria pros­e­cu­tors must apply in deter­min­ing whether to accept charges from police. Beyond prob­a­ble cause, pros­e­cu­tors must now con­sid­er the nature of the mis­con­duct ― whether it rep­re­sents nor­mal youth behav­ior, for exam­ple. They also must con­sid­er indi­vid­ual fac­tors such as age, dis­abil­i­ty, men­tal health and child wel­fare sta­tus and whether an appro­pri­ate diver­sion pro­gram is available.

Jor­dan added that the DA’s office has also:

  • launched a train­ing tour for school resource offi­cers and school admin­is­tra­tors, includ­ing a video that cap­tures the trau­ma of being arrest­ed in school; and
  • expand­ed diver­sion options to include a pro­gram for sex­u­al assaults that occur in the home; a respite diver­sion option for youth involved in domes­tic vio­lence against a par­ent or guardian; a mar­i­jua­na diver­sion pro­gram that avoids arrest; a school diver­sion pro­gram that tar­gets schools with the high­est refer­ral rates; and an upcom­ing dual-sta­tus diver­sion pro­gram for young peo­ple who are involved in the child wel­fare and juve­nile jus­tice systems.

After the train­ing, school refer­rals to court decreased 38% between 2018 and 2019, with 48% of school cas­es now being divert­ed from for­mal court processing.

King Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton (home to Seattle)

Philip Sanchez, the senior deputy pros­e­cut­ing attor­ney of the juve­nile divi­sion of the King Coun­ty Pros­e­cut­ing Attorney’s Office, spoke about a diver­sion pro­gram the DA’s office cre­at­ed with King Coun­ty and City of Seat­tle agen­cies after deter­min­ing that 90% of youth domes­tic vio­lence cas­es involved fam­i­ly mem­bers. The pro­gram can pro­vide ser­vices for fam­i­lies in cri­sis and respite care for youth who are involved in domes­tic vio­lence against a fam­i­ly mem­ber, avoid­ing adver­sar­i­al paths through the legal sys­tem. Sanchez dis­cussed Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­ered Dis­po­si­tion Alter­na­tive Res­o­lu­tion, which offers the pos­si­bil­i­ty of reduced charges for young peo­ple accused of com­mit­ting a seri­ous or vio­lent offense for the first time. If youth suc­cess­ful­ly engage in ser­vices, or make con­nec­tions with men­tors who share their back­ground — known as cred­i­ble mes­sen­gers, their charges may be reduced to a mis­de­meanor or even dismissed.


Robert Lis­ten­bee, the first assis­tant dis­trict attor­ney of the Philadel­phia Office of the Dis­trict Attor­ney, shared that over the past two years, 70% of cas­es direct­ly filed in the adult sys­tem have returned to the juve­nile sys­tem, thanks to con­cert­ed efforts by the DA’s office to reverse the trans­fer of youth to the adult sys­tem. Lis­ten­bee added that the DA’s office is com­mit­ted to:

  • aim­ing to divert from the jus­tice sys­tem all cas­es of youth ages 1012, and as many mis­de­meanor cas­es as pos­si­ble; and
  • work­ing with com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions to divert youth who typ­i­cal­ly would not be divert­ed, such as those who have com­mit­ted non-vio­lent felonies or who have com­mit­ted repeat offenses.

The webi­nar pre­sen­ters urged audi­ence mem­bers to engage pros­e­cu­tors in their reform efforts. John Jor­dan of Har­ris Coun­ty, Texas said, If it can hap­pen here, it can hap­pen anywhere.”

Mark Sol­er, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Children’s Law and Pol­i­cy and an Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion part­ner, mod­er­at­ed the webi­nar, which was orga­nized by the Casey Foundation’s JDAI train­ing part­ner, the Pre­tri­al Jus­tice Insti­tute. The webi­nar is adapt­ed from a work­shop at the 2019 JDAI Inter-site Conference.

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