New Jersey has a long history of trying to rehabilitate or divert juveniles from a future life of crime. Because we want to divert juveniles away from committing further criminal acts, and to point them towards a positive future, delinquency cases are handles through the Family Court rather than through the Criminal Court.
There are many options available to the court, and a tailor-made combination could include the following:
- Commitment to a juvenile detention facility.
- Tour a juvenile detention facility.
- Deferred disposition for a period of time in which the juvenile must comply with the remaining terms and conditions; at the end of the disposition period, the case will be fully dismissed.
- Juvenile to report to a school aftercare program.
- Juvenile to attend school with no unexcused absences or tardiness or suspension.
- Community service for a specific time.
- Restitution (if property was damaged).
- DNA samples taken and payment for same.
- Finger prints taken.
- Direct juvenile to obtain a GED/High School degree.
- Direct juvenile to cooperate with governmental agencies such as D.C.P.P. (formerly known as D.Y.F.S.)
- Direct the juvenile to attend Juvenile Counseling Service (“J.C.S.”).
- Find/maintain employment.
- Attend substance abuse counseling or meetings, and to provide proof of same.
- Submit to random substance abuse testing.
- Attend mental health counseling.
- Mandatory HIV / AIDS testing.
- Forbid contact with specific other individuals, including the victim and those involved in the incident such as co-defendants.
- Impose a curfew.
- Restrict travel.
- Suspend or revoke of driving privileges.
- Order Megan’s Law notices/registration.
- Restrain the juvenile for specific activities.
- Wear an ankle bracelet.
- Write a letter of apology.
- Anger management counseling.
- Forfeiture of seized weapons.
- Payment of fines, VCCB fees, DEDR fees, LEOTF fees and lab fees.
- Any other disposition that would be relevant and helpful in a particular case.
In addition to these, the court may direct that parents and guardians participate in certain activities along with the juvenile. This is to ensure not only that the juvenile completes the program, but it is also designed to actively involve the parents and guardians in the child’s diversion plan.
What should a judge think about in tailoring a diversionary plan?
By statute, a court should consider the following factors:
- The nature and circumstances of the offense;
- The degree of injury to persons or damage to property caused by the juvenile’s offense;
- The juvenile’s age, previous record, prior social service received, and out-of-home placement history;
- Whether the disposition supports family strength, responsibility and unity and the well-being and physical safety of the juvenile;
- Whether the disposition provides for reasonable participation by the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian, provided, however, that the failure of a parent or parents to cooperate in the disposition shall not be weighed against the juvenile in arriving at an appropriate disposition;
- Whether the disposition recognizes and treats the unique physical, psychological, and social characteristics and needs of the child;
- Whether the disposition contributes to the developmental needs of the child, including the academic and social needs of the child where the child has intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities;
- Any other circumstances related to the offense and the juvenile’s social history as deemed appropriate by the court;
- The impact of the offense on the victim or victims;
- The impact of the offense on the community; and
- The threat to the safety of the public or any individual posed by the child.
All in all, the law gives judges, prosecutors, counselors, therapists, educators, attorneys, clergy, parents, guardians, stakeholders and the juveniles themselves wide discretion to tailor-make a diversionary plan for the juvenile. This is all done to achieve the goal of making sure the juvenile avoids a future life of crime and understands the consequences of such a life.