Since August, I have interned with the Center for Court Innovation as a member of the Youth Justice Board. The Youth Justice Board is a program in which high school students from all over the city come together to research and write recommendations to address an issue that NYC youth are facing. This year, it was to increase the amount of pre arrest diversion options for youth ages 16-24 and to improve police youth relations for a safer community. New York is one of two states in which the age of criminal responsibility is 16. Therefore, if someone commits a crime as a teenager, it can be on his/her record for the rest of his/her life. Having a criminal record can be detrimental when applying for jobs, housing and schools. Many youth who have records as teens are arrested for petty crimes that have large penalties because of the ineffective theory of Broken Windows. The idea of Broken Windows is that people who commit smaller crimes will eventually commit more serious crimes, therefore, punishing people harshly for smaller crimes will deter them. However, it has been proven ineffective has the majority of people who go to jail have already been to jail. By punishing someone harshly for small crimes, they are already involved with the criminal justice system which can lead them to be repeat offenders.
Rather than punish teens for the rest of their lives based on the mistakes they make as young people, diversion is restorative. Essentially, diversion is a type of program which is an alternative to jail and a record. If the person completes the diversion program, then his/her record is sealed. If the person doesn’t, then he/she doesn’t go directly to jail but rather goes through the justice system.
I learned a lot this year, not only about how flawed the criminal justice system is, but about being an advocate.