District Attorney Andrea Harrington launched a new juvenile justice initiative Tuesday. The plan will hold juvenile offenders accountable while encouraging positive youth development through proven strategies to reduce teen recidivism and address the root causes of delinquency. It is a shift from a court-centered model of addressing juvenile delinquency to a community-based model, focused on ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

It includes prioritizing diversion, expanding community programming, advocating for new policies, and creating a community-led advisory committee.

The studies are clear that most young adults will grow out of criminal behavior by their mid-twenties and the vast majority of these crimes are low-level offenses,” Harrington said. “The decision-making part of a child's brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. With appropriate interventions instead of aggressive prosecution, we, as a community, can help make the next generation safer and healthier.

Berkshire D.A. Andrea Harrington

The initiative is a complementary piece to the Criminal Justice Reform Act, backed by the Berkshire Delegation, passed by the Massachusetts Legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last year. The bill made several changes to how the justice system addresses delinquency, including decriminalizing certain minor and school-based offenses and creating a mechanism to increase the use of diversion programs as alternatives to incarceration.

The Berkshire District Attorney's Office created a Juvenile Justice Unit and is growing its diversion program, which builds on the foundation set by the Probation and the Juvenile Court. The unit includes a prosecutor, victim witness advocate, and diversion coordinator.

The offending youth will be required to follow a rigorous and individualized program involving a combination of mental health and substance abuse services, youth programs, mentors, and job placements to avoid court involvement. The individualized plan holds youth to a higher, but more appropriate, standard of behavior than has been traditionally required in the justice system.

At the same time, the office will continue to place a high priority on supporting the victims of crimes. Guidelines are in place to ensure that victims in cases deemed eligible for juvenile diversion have access to victim services and advocacy.