The Merrimack County Juvenile Diversion Program is an early intervention program that works with predominantly first time juvenile offenders. It is a voluntary alternative to the criminal justice system for young people who have committed a crime or violation of the law. The program is also available to youth on a self referred basis as an educational resource and support.
Youth can be referred to the Diversion Program through court order, police, parents, schools or self referred. When referred as a first time juvenile offender the ultimate outcome for successful participation in the program is that they will have no criminal record if they complete contractual obligations.
The Program offers two valuable alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system: 1) Teen Court
2) Accountability Board (AB). Both the Teen Court Program and the AB utilize a restorative justice approach to rehabilitation. This approach allows juveniles to focus on repairing the damage caused to the victims, community, family and self.
The Accountability Board process involves an intake appointment with offending youth and their parents/guardians. This is followed by an AB meeting in which the youth meets with adult volunteers and is assigned a contract of items that may include community service, apology letters, research assignments, educational classes, etc and are appropriate consequences to the offense that was committed. If the youth completes all contract items within the timeline given, they have successfully completed the diversion process and will not have a juvenile criminal record.
The Teen Court Program was started in 2001. In this Program, youth participate in a court process administered by their peer group under adult guidance. It utilizes both teen and adult volunteers from the community who may be able to earn community services hours for their participation. The hearings are overseen by a Judge and the courtroom is comprised of volunteer jury members, teen prosecuting and defense attorneys, bailiffs and adults mentors, often UNH School of Law students. The program meets at Merrimack County’s Probate Court typically two Tuesdays per month from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. Teen Court strives to promote self-esteem, self-improvement and to foster a positive attitude towards rules and authority.