Delaware youth have new criminal justice protections that help them avoid having a record.
Gov. John Carney signed two juvenile justice reforms this week.
One of the measures, sponsored by State Rep. Debra Heffernan (D-Brandywine Hundred), expands the civil citation program, which diverts teens from the criminal justice system. Her bill opens the program to most misdemeanors and reduces the time a juvenile must wait to be referred to the program again from 18 months to one year.
Heffernan said a criminal record can prevent a teen from becoming a productive adult.
“We’ve hoping that this expands it to be able to be open to the most juveniles so they are able to be responsible for their mistakes, but not wreak their future,” she said.
Donna Pugh, director of the Juvenile Civil Citation Program, said more than 90 percent of the youth who enrolled in the program successfully completed it. She said from Sept. 2015 to Sept. 2018, about 760 teens have been referred to the program and 702 cases have been closed - with 641 meeting the necessary requirements and 48 not meeting those requirements.
Kate Parker with the Delaware Center for Justice agrees it works.
“Children make mistakes and when children make mistakes they have to be held accountable, but they have to be held accountable in way that teaches them and that helps them not make mistakes again in the future,” she said.
Carney also signed legislation sponsored by State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel) allowing Family Court to immediately expunge a teen's record after being found not guilty of a felony or the charges being dropped.
Parker said it removes the one-year waiting period and added expense to the youth and their family.