Get it Right the First Time: The Promise of the JJ System

By Susan Broderick, Senior Attorney, NDAA

Given all the public attention surrounding reforming the criminal justice system, it is puzzling that the juvenile justice system has been largely ignored in these conversations. For all the legislation targeting “second chances” and “reentry” initiatives, little attention seems to be on what we are doing on the front end of the system.

While promoting rehabilitation and improving reentry are certainly very worthwhile goals, imagine the impact we could have on public safety if we “got it right the first time”? For those coming into contact with the justice system, it is the juvenile justice system that is often the first point of contact and a place of incredible opportunity. If we focused more on what we are doing on the front end, we could have a dramatic effect across the entire justice continuum.

As gatekeepers to the juvenile justice system, prosecutors are responsible for key charging decisions and leadership in community prevention efforts. In this regard, the role and responsibilities of the juvenile prosecutor extend well beyond the courtroom. In fact, in cases involving young people, much of the prosecutor’s work can and should be done outside the courtroom. Working collaboratively with other youth-serving agencies in their communities allows prosecutors to play a leadership role in these efforts.

Recognizing the critical role that prosecutors play in juvenile court, the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has funded a number of grants to support juvenile prosecutors across the country. One of the most recent grants has been given to the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) for the creation of a national training and technical assistance program. Kristina Browning will be the Director of this project and I am delighted to be returning to NDAA to serve as a Senior Attorney.

An essential component of our work will focus on training and technical assistance. Over the past several years, we have worked with NDAA and senior prosecutors to create a new training curriculum that reflects the need for prosecutors to recreate their role as leaders, not only in the courtroom, but also in their communities. We piloted this curriculum to prosecutors in South Carolina this summer and the feedback was incredibly positive!

We will also be convening some of the most experienced juvenile court prosecutors to serve in an advisory capacity. Many of these prosecutors have devoted their careers to the juvenile system and are not only experts in the law but are also community leaders who are bringing substantive change in their jurisdictions. Collectively, they are on the forefront of identifying emerging and innovative policies and practices. They have targeted issues that are impacting their communities, such as opioid use, diversion programs, and human trafficking. Many of the programs have achieved great success and have helped reduce offending and improve community safety.

While the headlines may not be covering what is going on in the juvenile justice system, this new award is great news for the many devoted juvenile court prosecutors working tirelessly behind the scenes. Through innovative prevention and early intervention programs, many young people can be diverted from court and put on a new trajectory. For the more serious and violent offenders, practices and policies that promote public safety, offender accountability and rehabilitation will be highlighted. NDAA is excited and grateful to have this opportunity and look forward to working with prosecutors across the country on this project.

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