There was a time in the past where a teenage house party ended with a stern talking to by police and maybe some community service if deemed necessary. The state of New Jersey, like most states around the country, has programs in place to work for teens in high risk situations to help redirect their futures instead of using the most tough punishment first.
But in the years 2014 through 2016, 60,000 juveniles were arrested and only 6% of them were offered diversion programs, known as “statehouse adjustments”.
Diversion programs were first introduced in 2005 and allowed law enforcement agencies the option to let young offenders off the hook with a community service, verbal warnings, drug counseling or other minor conditions.
When an officer gives an adolescent a verbal warning instead of trudging them into the station, it’s called a “curbside warning”. Reprimands that happen at the station and include conditions like community service are called “stationhouse adjustments”
A study commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union has now found that some law enforcement agencies in New Jersey are not using these options, and instead charge thousands of young offenders are being held to criminal charges for non-serious crimes.
“We want to keep kids out of the system, we want to empower and encourage them,” said Portia Allen-Kyle, a fellow at the ACLU and one of the authors of the study. “We want to help them learn from their experiences, and ultimately make, perhaps, different decisions moving forward.”
The study found this:
- Too little young offenders are offered a second chance for change. In 2014 only around 10% of the states 24,306 juvenile arrests were allowed into diversion programs or “statehouse adjustments”. In 2015, even less were given the option, at 7% of juveniles were offered and accepted the statehouse adjustment. In 2016 the percentage further declined to only 6%
- In the 17 counties in New Jersey state and sent their data to the ACLU, 112 police departments didn’t even have a single “stationhouse adjustment” or another diversion program over the 3 years that they were studied. Four of the counties, Essex, Warren, Monmouth, and Camden did not even submit their quarterly reports on the number of adjustments that were offered. This means they either didn’t use the diversion programs at all or didn’t submit their reports to the county prosecutors’ office.
The programs being used happened in;
- Mercer and Atlantic counties, with the highest number of diversionary or statehouse adjustments reported. More than 670 juveniles were given a second chance over the 3 year study period.
- Lawrence Township in Mercer County and Hamilton Township in Atlantic county were at the top of the list, with a reported 250 stationhouse adjustments.
- The least amount of diversions offered came from Sussex, Hunterdon, Burlington, Morris, Passaic, Husdon and Salem counties.
The study also showed black children were offered fewer chances at a second chance.
- Of the 28.3% of black juvenile drug arrests in 2015, only 11.3% were offered diversionary programs for drug, tobacco and alcohol offenses.
- White adolescents were nearly 70% of the juvenile drug arrests but were offered more than 75% of the diversion programs for drug, tobacco and alcohol offenses in 2015.
- Of the 1,400 curfew and loitering arrests made in 2015 more than 60% of them were young black teenagers. Only 13 diversionary programs were given that year, to just 3 black teenagers.
The ACLU want to start a new directive for diversionary programs that would make it the default option for young persons committing minor crimes. This would be held through the state attorney’s office. They also recommend:
- Electronic submittal of data after each juvenile arrest so that the state would have a more up to date and transparent look at how the programs are working.
- The officers in their departments should be trained to provide these programs.
“We really just want people to know that if kids come in contact with law enforcement, you can ask for an alternative,” Allen-Kyle said. “We want kids and parents to know their rights and we want people to feel empowered to offer these alternatives to life in the criminal justice system.”