Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
25 Kirkpatrick Street, 3rd Floor, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 08901
*News Release* Date: May 13, 2009
New Program Seeks to Deter Juvenile Crime
When youngsters commit crimes such as carrying fake identification cards or damaging someone’s property, they face the possibility of getting arrested and convicted as juvenile delinquents.
But some youths will be spared the ordeal of being arrested, charged and then tried by a Family Court judge under a new comprehensive program aimed at deterring first-time juvenile offenders from committing more serious crimes.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan and Freeholder Mildred S. Scott today unveiled the “Clean Slate” program, which will give youngsters suspected of minor crimes a second chance to stay out of trouble, while easing the number of cases going to Family Court.
“The earlier we intervene, the more successful we will be in putting these children back on the right path,” Freeholder Scott said. “One offense does not have to lead to more down the line. Kids need to know this and have the tools to make the right decisions. This program gets us to that end.”
Police around the county “are very excited about it,” said South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka, who is president of the Middlesex County Police Chiefs Association.
“We prefer to give juveniles a second chance and give them the ability to avoid a criminal record because it can impact them when they’re adults,” the chief said. ‘’It’s a great tool to give them the opportunity to redeem themselves from any mistakes or errors in judgment that they’ve made.’’
The program is being funded by a $10,000 special initiative authorized by the Board of Chosen Freeholders through the Middlesex County Council for Children’s Services under the leadership of co-chairs Freeholder Blanquita B. Valenti and the Honorable Deborah Venezia, a judge of the Superior Court. The funds are made available through the State/Community Partnership Program operated by the Juvenile Justice Commission.
“For most young people, their first contact with the juvenile justice system is their local police department. Many times, these youth will never have contact with the system again. The uniform use of station house adjustments provides local law enforcement officers with an important tool to help get young people on the right track and build stronger communities. By bringing families, caregivers and law enforcement together, and identifying any need for support services, this early intervention strategy can prevent a juvenile’s further involvement in the juvenile justice system,” said Veleria N. Lawson, Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission.
In recent weeks, police officers in Carteret, East Brunswick, Highland Park, Metuchen, Monore, New Brunswick, Old Bridge, Perth Amboy, Piscataway, Sayreville, South Brunswick, South Plainfield and South River have selected youngsters who are likely to benefit from early intervention. About 40 youths are expected to participate.
With the approval of the youths’ parents or guardians, the participants, ranging in age from 12 to 17, sign contracts agreeing to perform certain duties, such as helping to clean a community center, or writing an essay on the consequences of criminal behavior.
‘’There could be any number of requirements,’’ said Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Ralph Cretella, who oversees cases involving juveniles. ‘’There could be restitution if they damage property, or they could be asked to make an apology,’’ he said.
Key to the program is the youths’ participation in six training sessions, which are being held on consecutive Wednesdays at the Middlesex County Police Training Center in Edison. The program began on May 6, 2009.
During the sessions, each lasting about three hours, youths will take part in interactive programs, instructional periods, mentoring and activities that promote teamwork, education, self-esteem, self-examination and overall cooperation.
Cretella said instructors will provide the participants ``with a lot of information concerning gangs, drugs, things of that sort, in an effort to convince them that that’s not the path to take in life. Our goal is to hopefully keep them out of the criminal justice system,’’ he said.
The program also features guest speakers who will offer warnings and life lessons for the participants.
Among the guests is the Honorable Roger W. Daley, a Superior Court judge who presides over juvenile trials in Middlesex County. Raymond Trigg, a New Brunswick police officer whose troubles as a youth help him relate to the participants, will also address the group. In addition, a victim of a juvenile crime will talk to the participants.
In other classes, the youths will be taken on a tour of the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center in North Brunswick, and will be required to sit through a municipal court session in their hometowns.
Once they have successfully completed all of the conditions set in their contracts, the participants will be released. No charges will be filed for their initial offenses. Graduation ceremonies are scheduled for June 10, 2009. A second program will be conducted later this year.
The Clean Slate program was developed by members of the Middlesex Out-Reach and Education (MORE) unit, established by Prosecutor Kaplan to provide schools, community groups and the public with information on a variety of topics aimed at keeping people safe.
Prosecutor Kaplan said Sgt. Patrick Dacey, Investigator Laura Callahan and agents Allie Bitterman and Michael Carroll were instrumental in creating the Clean Slate program.
Middlesex County Human Services Director Thomas M. Seilheimer praised the collaborative efforts of his staff and the Prosecutor’s staff in realizing the program, which is also known as the Station House Adjustment initiative.
“Cooperative ventures like this allow us to maximize limited resources while achieving common goals and outcomes in the prevention of further juvenile offenses.” Seilheimer said.
The program will be operated under the guidelines for Station House Adjustment of Juvenile Delinquency Offenses, enacted in 2005 by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
“I’m very pleased that this program has become a reality,” said Freeholder Valenti. “The Station House program is a good program and one that we hope more municipalities adopt. First-time offenders deserve a second chance. I applaud the collaboration between the Council for Children’s Services and the Prosecutor’s Office.”