NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Later this year, the City of Newport News will implement a program in hopes of helping to keep teens and kids out of the juvenile criminal system.
Jered Grimes, who’s the director of the Newport News Department of Juvenile Services, says they hope to have their new Youth Diversion Program up and running by June.
He says it’s the first like it in the commonwealth.
“We want to expand what we can do for the community. Not just sit in the corner we’ve been in which involves monitoring and supervising secure facilities where appropriate and when needed,” he said.
Grimes says they’ve been working on the program for the past two and a half years and have taken inspiration from similar programs in Newark, New Jersey, and Durham, North Carolina.
Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation, which codified the creation of the program.
It was sponsored by Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News).
Grimes says it can be challenging for those who enter into the juvenile justice system to get out once they’re in.
“Going before the judges, going through the whole court process, probation, parole down the line, is a very challenging situation for young people. Often when they get into that system, new rules are placed on them they aren’t used to, placed on their household,” he said. “Monitoring isn’t as responsive as their rules are. Often they find it difficult to escape the system they got themselves into with their behavior. This gives an alternative to that if it’s a minor charge — a Class II misdemeanor or lower, some statutory charges as well. We can intervene, place them in the program, use positive peer influence, a real problem solving restorative justice approach so they can learn through the process and hopefully never fully engage in the juvenile justice system.”
Grimes says over the last fiscal year, they’ve had about a 21% re-admittance rate at their detention facility.
“That’s lower than the national average for recidivism but we can do better. We can do more and our community deserves [it],” he said.
Grimes says in order to use the program, juveniles must accept full accountability for their actions, which could range from crimes such as driving infractions, vandalism, or curfew violations.
After, they will face a jury made up of their peers.
“We work with volunteers and those who will be advocates for those going through the process, the advocates for the Commonwealth, and present the case at one of our sessions. After the case is presented to a jury of their peers, we’ll work with a set of sanctions that are community base-community work, apology letters, doing groups or programs that teach copping skills and mechanisms to keep them out of trouble in the future and even restitution,” he said.
Grimes says the judges for their sessions will be attorneys and they’ll also work with those in the legal community to help mentor many of the youth, including volunteers, involved.
He says success stories from Newark and Durham have showed that many individuals who go through the end up using their second chance to have careers in education and the legal field.
Grimes is hopeful that this program will be a shinning moment for the Commonwealth and they’ll provide resources to other jurisdiction’s interested.
He believes it will help make juveniles accountable while also providing them a chance to clear their conscience and records.
Grimes says many organizations with the city are working on crime prevention and intervention programs. Many want to build communities and better those that have historically been underserved and this is a step in that direction.
“People need support. People make mistakes sometimes. They do down the wrong path but they need a helping hand, an opportunity to turn it around,” he said.
If you’d like to volunteer, you can call the Newport News Department of Juvenile Services at 757-926-1600 or email by clicking here.