3 new graduates emerge felony-free from the Orange County Young Adult Court


For 3 younger males, Friday marked the start of a brand new chapter of their lives — this one, unmarked by the felonies they have been charged with.

The Orange County Younger Grownup Courtroom, a collaborative courtroom for first-time nonviolent felony offenders between the ages of 18 and 23, graduated three of its preliminary 25 individuals late Friday afternoon with tearful goodbyes earlier than Orange County Superior Courtroom Decide Maria Hernandez lowered or dismissed their convictions.

Hernandez mentioned that she wished that everybody who had a hand within the circumstances might be current in-person, however that present restrictions forbid it as COVID-19 circumstances proceed to develop in Orange County.

The primary graduate of this system graduated in July.

“For at this time, we’re ensuring that we don’t cease a commencement due to a pandemic,” Hernandez mentioned.

The workers of and individuals in this system watched the ceremony by way of Zoom, cheering because the three younger males thanked this system and their buddies and households.

“I obtained into [Orange County] Younger Grownup Courtroom after I was 19 due to the errors I made,” mentioned Thomas, one of many graduates who requested for his final title to be withheld. “I dedicated a theft and with out this courtroom, I’d be dealing with 9 years in jail.”

“I apologize to the individuals I damage within the strategy of my wrongdoings. This courtroom has helped me — a Black man — have a second probability at life as a substitute of throwing me into jail. I used to be given a possibility to redeem myself,” Thomas mentioned. “Now, I’ve a job in dermatology and cosmetic surgery and I make good cash. I used to be capable of purchase a automotive and have the chance for extra development.”

The 2-year program was launched in August 2018 and presents randomly chosen first-time felony offenders help providers and sources for psychological well being counseling, job expertise coaching, substance abuse remedy and housing and transportation help. These chosen weren’t convicted of crimes together with bodily harm or weapons.

Thomas, center, stands with a certificate of completion from the Orange County Young Adult Court.

Thomas, heart, stands with a certificates of completion from the Orange County Younger Grownup Courtroom with Elizabeth Cauffman, left, a professor of psychological science at UC Irvine, and Orange County Superior Courtroom Decide Maria Hernandez at his facet.

(Courtesy of UCI)

Elizabeth Cauffman, a professor of psychological science at UC Irvine who helped launch this system, mentioned it is tailor-made to the person and their particular wants, whether or not or not it’s persevering with their schooling or getting a job.

“It’s actually assembly them the place they’re at and discovering the objectives that they should meet and serving to them attain these objectives,” Cauffman mentioned.

The minimal time spent in this system is eighteen months.

If individuals meet all their necessities, which incorporates attending all courtroom hearings and conferences with probation officers and case managers, they will full this system and be eligible to have their felonies dismissed or lowered to misdemeanors.

This system was launched below the path of Hernandez; Cauffman; Cauffman’s former postdoctoral pupil, Zachary Rowan, who now could be a college member at Simon Fraser College in Canada; Cauffman’s present post-doctoral pupil, Grace Icenogle; the Orange County Probation Division; the Orange County Public Defender and Protection Bar; Orange County district legal professional’s Workplace; and the Orangewood Basis.

Cauffman and her workforce, with a $780,000 grant from the Nationwide Institute of Justice, are learning this system. The Neighborhood Motion Partnership of Orange County may also be contributing $749,000 for the subsequent yr to help the courtroom and the analysis.

Cauffman, a developmental psychologist, mentioned this system targets younger individuals as a result of they’re an age group that sees essentially the most delinquent conduct and has the largest prices concerned with it.

“What they did after they have been 20 — after they’re 30, 40, 50 — they’re going to be carrying this felony for the remainder of their lives,” Cauffman mentioned. “We inform all people to be good after which they get out and so they don’t have these alternatives. This actually hits the developmental time after they’re the very best threat and have the best alternative for change.”

“It’s about getting individuals second probabilities at a time the place we’re on the lookout for social justice,” Cauffman mentioned. “That is social justice — accountable, developmentally applicable methods and offering each the neighborhood, the security, and the individual, the chance to turn out to be productive members of our society.”

“All people’s being held accountable, however in a means that I believe everybody needs them to. We would like individuals again in our communities being productive and engaged,” she added.

One of many graduates, who requested for his title to be withheld, mentioned that he got here to the Orange County Younger Grownup Courtroom when he was 21 and that he was “dumb,” not realizing on the time how his actions damage others however has since realized his errors.

“If somebody like me — somebody who was at all times committing crimes and making an attempt to hang around with buddies and impress them — can turn out to be the individual I’m at this time, you guys can do it too,” he mentioned. “I imply, what extra do you guys need? The Younger Grownup Courtroom makes it straightforward for us to alter. All you guys must do is settle for the assistance from everybody right here on this program. Getting your felony dismissed must be greater than sufficient motivation for you guys to need to change.”

“Take the assistance they offers us,” he added.

Thomas agreed.

“Hold believing in us,” Thomas mentioned to different program individuals watching by way of Zoom. “I imagine second chances are high deserved and if I can do it, you are able to do it too.”

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