Are the Juvenile Courts pushing to have the local JRB's handle more of the caseload because the courts are overloaded? After a charge has been determined by the police, can the head of the JRB reduce the charges? Do the towns have more services for kids than the Courts can offer?There is a move to have the JRBs handle more of the minor cases in an effort to keep those cases out of the courts. It is not because the courts are overloaded (in fact their numbers have been steadily going down over the past few years after taking into consideration the increased age effective last year), it is more because the minor cases don't really need court intervention and it appears to be better for everyone in the long term to handle those cases at the local level. The alternative has been to just reject the cases at intake, because they are minor, and just send the cases back to the police without any intervention or services.
As far as "reducing the charges" is concerned, I have been involved in some JRB cases where the charge had to be changed in order to be eligible for diversion to the JRB. In one case, a 16 year old girl was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor. That is an infraction for a 16 year old and therefore it is an adult case and not eligible for a referral to a JRB. Since she also gave the cop a hard time, I had the cop also charge her with interfering with an officer thereby giving her a juvenile charge that made her eligible for the JRB. After case dragged on for almost one year because of the girl's resistance to complying with the recommendations, the girl finally came around, with the help of a lot of counseling and a couple of return visits to the JRB, and we successfully closed the case earlier this month. The girl has repaired her relationship with her mother and now has a job and seems to be on her way to a good life.
Even in that situation, the decision to "change the charge" was made by the officer after consultation. If there is going to be any changing of charges, it should be done by the police after discussion with the prosecutor or the JRB. It should not be done by the JRB alone.
Most towns do not have access to more programs and services than the courts but in many situations the JRBs can access many of the same programs and services and do so without the court involvement. That eliminates the need for court appearances, lawyers, the adversary process and a court record. The current “pilot project” is designed to allow JRBs more access to court programs, services and "flex funds" that are otherwise only accessible through the court.
In the specific case you mentioned, it sounds to me like the police charges were appropriate. The "charges" only define the way the kid's conduct violated the law. If the fact that one of the charges was a felony made it ineligible for diversion to the JRB, then the JRB should either have made an exception to their intake policy to accommodate the referral or the police should have been asked to consider amending the charge to a misdemeanor. The local juvenile court prosecutor probably should have also been a part of that conversation.
It is true that the JRB can do more in such cases than the court because the JRB can supervise the kid more closely and work with the family to a greater degree than the court because the court is a statewide entity with specific legal and policy restraints while the JRB is a local, more informal process. In serious cases, or those cases where very intensive services are needed, the court must be involved. In less serious cases, where the needs of the kid and the family can be better dealt with by the close supervision of a local case manager, then the JRB is the way to go.
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