Judge Corpening on Diversion Tactics

As part of the expert blog series, Judge Corpening has responded to additional questions from readers and visitors to the Supportive School Discipline website regarding the School Discipline and Juvenile Justice reform efforts in North Carolina. 

Question from Reader: What are the specific diversion tactics? What types and levels of collaboration are necessary for these tactics to be effective? 

Our agreement is a graduated response model.  Diversion is one part of this model.  We currently use one diversion strategy, and are working to develop others.  It is important to remember that the hardest work begins after the agreement is reached, and is centered in the development of appropriate graduated response models.  One of the greatest challenges is that the same model may not work in more than one school because of varied resources and personnel.  Our agreement was signed on November 2, 2015, and we are still working to develop disciplinary strategies, diversions, and to implement site based training.

            We use Teen Court as a diversion tool as opposed to arrest.  Teen Court is available as a diversion for all of our defined focused acts as well as other offenses on a case by case basis.  There are several keys to the resounding success of our Teen Court program.

  1. Strong program coordinator.  We have had the same Teen Court coordinator for the last 10 years.  She has developed a strong working relationship with school administration at our middle and high schools, as well as with our School Resource Officers.  She has developed a strong volunteer base among the service clubs in the high schools, and provides effective training for these volunteers.  She works effectively with our Clerk of Court and head of courthouse security so that the program has access to our facility after business hours.  Finally, she communicates effectively with me in my role as Chief District Court Judge about cases that schools would like to refer to Teen Court that are not already on the approved list.
  2. Partnership with community service program.  Community service is the punishment handed down by our Teen Court juries.  Our Teen Court now partners with Community Service and Restitution which is operated under the umbrella of Youth Empowerment Services for New Hanover County.   CSR manages all community service coming out of our juvenile delinquency court (under 16 in North Carolina).  Before this partnership began, placement for community service out of Teen Court was challenging.  Now, one of the coordinators for CSR attends each session of Teen Court and enrolls Defendants.  Work sites are carefully selected by CSR, and each sentence of community service work includes a job skills/job search component.  Scheduling is seamless, and the end result is much more satisfactory.
  3. Volunteer Attorneys.  We have a small group of dedicated volunteers made up of young public defenders and prosecutors.  These volunteers show up month after month for the Teen Court sessions, serve as the presiding judges for the sessions, and mentor the student volunteers who fill the roles of prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, and jurors.  We typically operate 3 courtrooms on Teen Court night, and are very dependent on these volunteers and their leadership.  The impact that these young attorneys have on the student volunteers is every bit as significant as the impact of the Teen Court process on the defendants.
  4. Direct referral.  School Resource Officers and school administrators have the ability to refer cases directly to Teen Court by communicating with the Teen Court Coordinator.  This is significant for several reasons.
    1. Direct referral is more efficient and enables us to get cases scheduled and concluded much faster than if the cases had to be referred by Juvenile Justice or our adult criminal courts.
    2. Direct referral brings greater consistency in the types of cases we see, by involving less people in the decision making process.  It also enables us to make immediate decisions about cases involving special circumstances that justify a non-traditional referral.
    3. North Carolina still treats 16 year olds as adults in our criminal justice system.  Direct referral means that teens 16 and older do not acquire an arrest record as part of referral.  Other areas of North Carolina require that referrals only come from court.  We are thrilled with our process, and believe it works better for our youth.

We are developing another diversion program that will benefit 16 and 17 year olds in our community.  This pre-arrest diversion program will enable officers to make referrals of 16 and 17 year olds that would otherwise be charged with non-violent misdemeanors.  The significance here is that there will be no arrest record.  These referrals can come from School Resource Officers and officers on patrol. We hope to be able to include 18 and 19 year olds if they are still in school and the offense happened at a school.  The program will include a mock trial demonstrating what could have happened with arrest and a trial,  a debrief with court and law enforcement officials, a community service component, and a case management component that will seek to match needs of the teen to services in the community.  Our program is modeled on a program that has operated with great success in Durham County, North Carolina.  Funding for the coordinator for this program is in the budget process for fiscal year 2016/2017.  We hope to be up and running by the end of the summer.

To view Judge Corpening expert blog series in its entirety click here: NCSSD Blog Interview with Judge J. H. Corpening: Inter-Agency Governance Agreements and Addressing The School-to-Prison Pipeline