Some Providence youths accused of non-violent infractions will soon have an option other than going through the courts. The Providence City Council established a Juvenile Hearing Board (JHB) to help keep first-time offenders out of the justice system. Instead of going to court and serving time, a panel would prescribe incarceration alternatives.
City Council President Luis Aponte led the efforts to create the board. He says putting youths in jail is costly and often doesn’t serve the public interest.
“Prying kids from their families and communities often creates much more damage,” said Aponte in a statement.
Spokesperson for the council Michaela Antunes says the trained board is designed to give these first-time offenders support so they can stay out of the system.
“It’ll give youth who have run into problems with the law some resources and support that they and their families need to correct these behaviors in a more appropriate setting than a courtroom,” said Antunes.
Rhode Island for Community and Justice (RICJ) specializes in training these kinds of boards throughout the state- there are currently some 30 towns with active panels- and they have already trained some members of the Providence JHB.
Amanda Mastronardi is the juvenile justice coordinator with RICJ. She says that for first-time offenders boards can assign a variety of sanctions.
“The most common sanctions that get administered tend to be community service, letters of apology, essays, or different projects that are of particular interest to that particular juvenile and would be relevant to the offense that they’d committed,” said Mastronardi.
According to RICJ data, first-time offenders who go through these kinds of boards report reduced recidivism.
An added benefit of these boards is a clean record when they’re done with their punishment, unlike juveniles who go through family court.
Providence’s JHB still has some time until it is ready to take on cases. It will convene later this month to elect a chair and vice-chair.
Once the board is operational, it will hear cases once a month, but they have the option to meet at a higher frequency.