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Arlington police can now refer kids to restorative programs outside the juvenile justice system

A police officer plays a game of pickup basketball with local kids in 2018 (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)

(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) A new youth program could divert youth who commit misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies from the juvenile legal system.

Arlington police will be able to refer offending juveniles to local programs aimed at holding youth accountable outside of the court system, according to a press release from the Center for Youth and Family Advocacy (CYFA).

“Community-based diversion is critical to community policing because it recognizes young people’s capacity for change,” the organization said in a statement. “Community-based diversion also reduces the possibility of collateral consequences arising from legal system involvement, which can have lasting, and often unexpected, effects on a youth throughout their life.”

CYFA works Arlington County’s juvenile court services unit to provide a variety of youth-led programs, through which kids who acknowledge wrongdoing can make amends and rejoin their communities.

It offers programs such as “Youth Peer Court,” in which trained teens occupy the roles of prosecutor and defense attorney, judge and jury and help develop a plan the juvenile follows to repair the harm he or she committed.

Now, police will be able to refer kids to that program and another, in which kids learn how to facilitate conversations about issues impacting teens by those harmed and those doing the harm.

The nonprofit says its new partnership with ACPD, in the works since 2019, is a “radical change” in how Arlington County addresses delinquent behavior in kids and prevents them from being involved in the formal juvenile legal system.

Until recently, for instance, police officers were in Arlington Public Schools. The intent was to maintain school safety and provide mentorship, though there were community concerns that the school presence resulted in racial disparities in juvenile arrests.

For the police department, the CYFA partnership is a new way to stay involved in the lives of children without involving the full weight of the courts.

“ACPD recognizes that using restorative justice programs for particular incidents involving youth provides an opportunity to divert youth from the criminal justice system while still holding them accountable for their actions and providing persons who have been harmed an opportunity to be actively involved in the resolution of their case,” department spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow.

The two organizations will work together to educate locals about how to also utilize these two programs when police are not involved, CYFA says.

The nonprofit says the partnership advances the aims of the county’s Police Practices Group, which suggested more than 100 ways to reform policing in Arlington.

“It creates space to reframe police response from adversarial to solution-focused and provides an opportunity to shift cultural and societal reliance on police resources,” CYFA said.

In a Facebook post, the organization provided a “shoutout” to several officers within ACPD for their work to stand up the program, as well as to Chief Andy Penn and Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent “for their tremendous work on strategic planning.”

The organization additionally thanked County Manager Mark Schwartz and the Arlington County Board for supporting its efforts.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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