In Orange County, Young Adult Court offers a path to clear felony convictions


For 3 younger males, Friday marked the start of a brand new chapter of their lives — this one free from the felonies they have been convicted of.

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

Hernandez stated she wished everybody who had a hand within the instances might be current in individual, however present restrictions forbid it as COVID-19 instances proceed to surge in Orange County.

The primary graduate of this system finished in July.

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

Contributors and program workers watched the ceremony via Zoom, cheering because the three younger males thanked this system and their buddies and households.

“I acquired into Younger Grownup Courtroom once I was 19 due to the errors I made,” stated Thomas, one of many graduates, who requested that his final title be withheld. “I dedicated a theft, and with out this court docket I might be going through 9 years in jail.”

“I apologize to the folks I harm within the means of my wrongdoings. This court docket 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 chance to redeem myself,” Thomas stated. “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 progress.”

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

Three people pose in a courtroom with a framed certificate

Thomas, middle, who accomplished this system, with Elizabeth Cauffman, left, a professor of psychological science at UC Irvine, and Orange County Superior Courtroom Decide Maria Hernandez.


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

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

The minimal time spent in this system is eighteen months.

If members meet all their necessities, which embody attending all court docket hearings and conferences with probation officers and case managers, they will full this system and grow to be eligible to have their felonies dismissed or lowered to misdemeanors.

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

Cauffman and her staff, with a $780,000 grant from the Nationwide Institute of Justice, are finding out this system. The Group Motion Partnership of Orange County will even contribute $749,000 for the subsequent 12 months to help the court docket and the analysis.

Cauffman, a developmental psychologist, stated this system targets younger folks as a result of they’re an age group that sees probably 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 stated. “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 best danger and have the best alternative for change.”

“It’s about getting folks second possibilities at a time the place we’re in search of social justice,” Cauffman continued. “That is social justice — accountable, developmentally applicable methods and offering each the neighborhood the security, and the individual the chance to grow 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 wish folks again in our communities being productive and engaged,” she stated.

One of many graduates, who requested for his title to be withheld, stated that he got here to the court docket when he was 21, and that he was “dumb,” not realizing on the time how his actions harm others. He stated he has since realized his errors.

“If somebody like me — somebody who was at all times committing crimes and attempting to hang around with buddies and impress them — can grow to be the individual I’m at present, you guys can do it, too,” he stated, addressing different program members over Zoom. “I imply, what extra do you guys need? The Younger Grownup Courtroom makes it simple for us to vary. All you guys should 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 offer us,” he stated.

Thomas agreed.

“Maintain believing in us,” Thomas stated. “I consider second likelihood is deserved, and if I can do it, you are able to do it too.”

Nguyen writes for Occasions Group Information.


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