As he campaigns for a full term as Suffolk County district attorney, Kevin Hayden has told voters that he strongly believes in juvenile justice reform. He touted his ideas on alternatives to prosecution programs to divert youth away from the criminal justice system before they get tangled up in it. He even supported the idea of raising the maximum age for people to be tried as juveniles.
But last week, Hayden fired Michael Glennon, the chief of his office’s juvenile unit — a move that concerned advocates for juvenile justice reform. Glennon, who had good relationships with community organizations, helped to build the Juvenile Alternatives Resolution program, an ambitious community partnership created in 2017 under former District Attorney Daniel Conley. The goal of that program was to steer more teens away from the criminal justice system by giving them access to social services and support networks — such as voluntary counseling, job training, and mental health treatment — and by including moderate- and high-level juvenile offenders in the DA office’s diversion efforts.
Hayden has given no public explanation for the firing, which came just after he defeated challenger Ricardo Arroyo in a heated Democratic primary. What’s particularly confusing about Hayden’s decision to remove the juvenile unit chief is that while he was campaigning against Arroyo, the district attorney specifically praised Glennon’s work and promised to expand it to young adults.
The firing is not the only warning sign about the direction of juvenile justice initiatives under Hayden. According to a person who is familiar with the DA office’s internal data, the percentage of youth cases going to arraignment — that is, when people are brought to court to hear the charges brought against them and submit a plea — has risen since Hayden assumed office. About six months into his administration, the percentage of cases going to arraignment had increased by roughly 15 percentage points compared to the average annual rates from 2018 to 2021, the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. That means that the portion of cases that are being diverted prior to arraignment is shrinking.
A spokesman for Hayden, James Borghesani, raised questions about the statistic but did not offer alternative data. “At any fixed date, postponed arraignments, or cases being summonsed, or cases without sufficient updates can skew the numbers,” Borghesani said.
Both developments are cause for concern, and Hayden ought to assure the public that his office is not going back to the old days of making a teen’s mistake haunt them for the rest of their lives. In order to do that, the DA should do the following:
First, he has to articulate the direction he’d like to see his juvenile unit go in given that he imposed a major shake-up in its leadership. Why, exactly, does he want a new person in charge?
Second, he should not leave that leadership role vacant for long. In order to maintain trust with the community organizations that the DA’s office has been working with on providing youths with resources they need in order to avoid prosecution, Hayden has to show that he’s serious about keeping that unit running smoothly, and so he must swiftly appoint a new chief.
Third, he should do as he promised on his campaign. In one of the debates, he said he wanted to expand the Juvenile Alternatives Resolution program and “bring it into the adult court so that young adults can get the same opportunities to real robust treatment and services in lieu of prosecutions just like we’re doing in our juvenile court.” If he wants to show that he cares about diversion, particularly for young people, then he should work to include young adults in that juvenile diversion program, especially as more studies support the idea that brain development continues into a person’s early- to mid-twenties.
It’s important that Hayden takes juvenile justice reform seriously, especially as Boston struggles to maintain its juvenile violence prevention initiatives. Though it wasn’t Hayden’s doing, the city shuttered its Street Outreach, Advocacy and Response program, which sought to “reduce recidivism, intervene in violent activity, and create pathways for active gang-involved youth and young adults.” As Suffolk County’s top law-enforcement officer, Hayden has a unique responsibility to reverse the apparent upheaval in local juvenile justice and violence prevention programs — especially the concerning changes happening in his own office.
It shouldn’t be that difficult for him to figure out how to do that. After all, he can just revisit some of the plans he proposed on his campaign.
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