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Virginia Suburb Shows That Diversion, Victim-centered Agreements Work []


Over the last several years, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDRDC) of Fairfax County, Va., has been working on transformative efforts around juvenile justice in an effort to keep low-risk youth from entering the system and address disparities for youth of color. One large area targeted by these efforts was the diversion programming and Juvenile Intake Office.

In Virginia, intake officers are decision-makers. It is their responsibility to review charges from petitioners for probable cause and make decisions regarding eligibility for diversion or appropriateness for court. In addition, intake officers work closely with police when determining probable cause and recommending diversion.

In line with other juvenile justice transformation efforts, JDRDC partnered with other county agencies and community service providers to redesign and expand an existing community restorative justice program into the Alternative Accountability Program (AAP). In addition, JDRDC overhauled the juvenile intake process, incorporating evidence-based assessments as part of the diversion process.

The AAP is a newly developed, early diversion option for youth involved in the juvenile justice system in Fairfax County. The program uses a victim-centered response to juvenile offenses and provides eligible youth an opportunity to acknowledge their involvement in incidents and explore ways to repair the harm. Victims drive the process, participating in conferences with resolutions in terms that meet the victim’s needs.

The development of AAP is a direct result of collaboration among various county agencies and community partners, including JDRDC’s Court Services Unit (CSU), the Fairfax County Police Department, the Fairfax County Public Schools, Neighborhood and Community Services and Northern Virginia Mediation Services. Operating under a memorandum of understanding, representatives from these agencies meet quarterly to support the implementation and sustainability of AAP.

In the most recent annual data (from fiscal year 2018, which runs July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018), the AAP served 447 youth offenders (40% youth of color and 60% white youth) through 297 conferences. More than 900 citizens (victims, supporters, etc.) were involved in the process throughout the year.

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