January 6, 2022

AFJ’s Diversion Participants

Avenues for Justice (AFJ) recently expanded its services to work with young people in New York City Law Department's Family Court Division’s “Diversion” program. Young people assigned to the Diversion program through Family Court are mandated to community-based alternative to incarceration (ATI) organizations, such as AFJ, for a specific number of sessions or workshops—typically four to 16. Diversion youth must also complete their mandate within a 60-day period. Part of that mandate from the city-wide Diversion Coordinators is that at least one session involves a mental health workshop. In 2021, AFJ implemented a mandatory Mental Health 101 overview workshop for all new participants.

Originally targeting 14 and 15 year olds, the program has since expanded to youth up to the age of 18. Determining whether a youth is eligible for Diversion is at the judge’s discretion, with consideration to several factors such as: age, criminal offense, criminal history, personal situation and more.

In 2021, almost 50% of new AFJ participants were mandated from the Diversion court program. This week, we are highlighting two Diversion participants who successfully completed our program!

Jaquan, 16 Years Old:

Jaquan was referred to AFJ through Queens Family Court for 8 sessions in September 2021. During his intake process at AFJ, Jaquan expressed an interest to AFJ Court Advocate, Shantel, about securing an internship, as well as wanting to graduate from high school. This past November, his work paid off. First, he was accepted into a paid internship program which he is still part of today. Next, he applied to Job Corps in order to earn his high school diploma.

Jaquan attended several of AFJ’s workshops for Job Readiness, Teen Empowerment and Healthy Relationships. Once he completed his mandate, his case was dismissed. Grateful for all the short-term services he received while at AFJ, he is still in contact with Shantel and updates her on his progress. AFJ will continue to offer services and/or make referrals for Jaquan in order to help him achieve his educational and employment goals.

Ezrah, 18 Years Old

Ezrah was also referred to AFJ through Queens Family Court for 8 sessions in June 2021. Ezrah’s main goal was to get a job in the food and hospitality industry. AFJ Court Advocate Shantel helped Ezrah prepare a resume and coached him on how to conduct a job search. A month into his search, Shantel referred him to the Smorgasburg Job Fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ezrah was nervous as he felt he wouldn’t land a job because he didn’t have the proper attire. AFJ quickly outfitted him with a suit and Shantel coached him through several mock interviews. After a successful interview with one of the vendors, he was offered a position.

Not only did Ezrah fulfill his court mandate by taking several workshops at AFJ, including Teen Empowerment and Legal Responsibilities, he also continues checking-in with Shantel and is happily employed to this day!

If it were not for New York State raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age, and no longer prosecuting 16- and 17-year olds as adults thanks to Raise the Age, both of these young men would have automatically been charged as adults.

We look forward to our continued work with the city-wide Diversion programs so that we can #ReplaceCellsWithServices, diverting youth from incarceration and keeping our participants in their homes, in schools, employed and on a path to success.


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