The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday announced a new program that hopes to keep kids out of the criminal justice system by giving them a second chance through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis.
Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears detailed the launch of the new Juvenile Second Chance Program with help from the Boys & Girls Clubs. His office has agreed to pay the nonprofit’s one-year standard membership fee for juveniles who have made a low-level, non-violent offense such as vandalism, curfew violations, or theft, among others.
“It’s so great when you can take a young person and have them connect with people who are truly invested in them and their future,” Mears said during a press conference.
This option, as opposed to entering the criminal justice system, will offer kids “a safe place where they experience positive interactions with adults.”
“Ultimately, I would rather spend money to provide this opportunity than prosecuting children for making mistakes,” Mears said. “We know that once children are introduced into the criminal justice system, it typically sets up a cycle of challenges and expectations that can impact their entire life. Instead, we want to help change behavior and give them opportunities to make better choices, which is a benefit for the entire community.”
If they take advantage of the program, juveniles will be provided with a referral letter notifying them that they are being given a second chance to avoid the criminal justice system prior to a delinquency filing.
Eligibility will be determined on a case-by-case review and is intended for first time offenders.
“All of our youth deserve the opportunity to learn how to become responsible, caring citizens,” said Maggie A. Lewis, Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis executive director and CEO. “Our long history serving the community and our team members ability to serve as mentors can help Club members gain a new perspective to positively impact their lives, the Club and the local community.”
Lewis said the primary focus remains “providing a safe and positive environment” to help the kids of Indianapolis build brighter futures. She said several referrals have already been submitted to the program and those kids are already getting plugged in.
“As the community seeks solutions for helping youth get on the right track, we look forward to serving as a resource for the Prosecutor’s Office and others working within the justice system to ensure that the kids who need us most have the opportunity to live a life that is filled with hope and opportunity,” Lewis said.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis will be able to track who is showing up to the program and when. But Mears said success in the program won’t be defined by how many days they attend.
A deputy prosecutor will be available to follow up with kids who aren’t taking advantage of the services and to work on educating them about available opportunities.