For some youthful offenders in Bucks County, one bad mistake will not follow them for the rest of their lives. A felony for something done at a young age can have dramatic consequences, including barring the person from being able to get a good job or getting into college.
Consider for example two individuals who take part in the commission of a burglary. It does not have to be the stereotypical “ski mask and baseball bat” burglary; it can just be two friends breaking into somebody’s garage to take something of little value. The two friends are caught by police, arrested, and charged with burglary (a felony of the first degree). The only difference is one individual is 17, and the other is 18. The 17 year-old will most likely be treated and rehabilitated in juvenile court, out of the scorn of the public eye. The 18 year-old, even if he avoids jail time, will still have a felony conviction on his record for the rest of his life. This, in and of itself, is crippling and unfair.
Many judges, lawyers, and others in the legal profession take issue with certain youthful indiscretions affecting someone’s life in such a harsh way. They believe that these young adults should be given another chance to prove that they are not the menace to society that the court system portrays them to be. Thanks to the generous donation of an unknown benefactor, some young adults are getting this chance.
Bucks County has started a system called the Youthful Offenders Program, designed to be a mix of punishment and rehabilitation. Bucks County judges and the District Attorney’s Office run the program, which has been shown to be successful at getting these offenders back on track. Candidates for the program are carefully selected, according to the following criteria:
- Must be 24 or younger
- No prior adult convictions and no juvenile court adjudication
- Can not have committed a sex offense, violent offense, or drug deal
- Must undergo testing to determine risk of reoffending
The program is a “boot camp” of sorts, aimed to teach the young people the values of responsibility and accountability. It revolves around a 30-day wilderness challenge that is designed to transform these young offenders into productive adults. Once the expectations are met, the felony charge is withdrawn.
Out of the 52 youthful offenders who have entered the program since June 2008, all 52 have successfully completed it and had their felonies withdrawn. Bucks County District Attorney Dave Heckler is happy with the results of the Youthful Offenders Program and can sympathize with these young people who had the rest of their lives in jeopardy. Sharing the same viewpoint of other lawyers and judges, he believes that “They are adults in the eyes of the law, but there’s an immaturity that we recognize.”
You can read more about juvenile court here.