What’s J.O.I.N. & Who’s Eligible for This Diversion Program?
In addition to the pre-filing diversion programs set forth at Welfare & Institutions Code § 654.1, there is a program called the Juvenile Offender Intervention Network (J.O.I.N.) that is less used, but also available for certain offenses and qualified juveniles. In other words, not all courts use this program.
What One Should Learn from This Article: J.O.I.N. is one of several options the juvenile probation department has to handling less serious juvenile offenses. If a juvenile successfully completes the program requirements, which are individualized and usually not the same from case to case, no prosecution will take place.
J.O.I.N. similarly has the intent to help juveniles facing a first, non-violent case to help such youths return to a productive path in life. It provides an alternative to juvenile court prosecution, as do the myriad of other programs under § 654.1.
The program is limited to young men and women between the ages of 10 and 17 who commit a first, time nonviolent offense. The program is not offered to juveniles arrested for DUI, possession or use of a firearm, residential burglary, sale of a controlled substance, sexual assault, felony arson (meaning the value of the damage exceeds $400), or dissuading or intimidating a witness – or any serious or violent offense (i.e. murder, mayhem, etc.).
Interestingly, a juvenile who commits a low-level hate-crime is eligible for the J.O.I.N. program. A hate-crime is an actual act or a credible threat of violence against someone or a group of people who are (is) targeted because of their actual or perceived gender, disability, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry or sexual orientation. It merits mention that only non-violent hate-crimes qualify for J.O.I.N.
The program lasts one year. The deputy district attorney assigned to the case must refer the youth to J.O.I.N., so it is important to retain a defense attorney who has experience and rapport in the juvenile court at issue to suggest this to the deputy district attorney early in the process, perhaps even days after the offense. The program requires parent participation, so it is critical for the defense attorney to assure the district attorney that the parents are keen to cooperate.
The program is administered and supervised by hearing officers, most of who have a law enforcement background.
As in the 654.1 program, the juvenile signs a written contract that obligates him or her to:
(1) attend school regularly;
(2) perform community service;
(3) acknowledge responsibility for his or her actions (this can mean that the juvenile must write a letter of apology when there is a victim);
(4) pay restitution (for damage to victim(s) if part of the offense);
(5) when the offense is a hate-crime, the juvenile must participate in an educational program that provides instruction in avoiding hateful ideology and promotes acceptance of diversity;
(5) participate in counseling; and
(6) not have any new arrests.
Parents must also agree to participate in mandatory parenting-skills classes, which is not required as part of the 654.1 program. This is intended to address the causes of their child’s conduct and prevent it in the future.
The big benefit of the program is that the juvenile who successfully complete the program avoids a conviction on their record and may legally state they were never charged with or prosecuted for the offense. This can have significant consequences, insofar as college applications often inquire into this area, as to college loan applications. Obviously, it also has employment benefits because most employers are interested in knowing if they are hiring a criminal to be an employee.
Lately, in 2018, we have seen the J.O.I.N. program de-emphasized in favor of teen court, which is a program wherein a juvenile agrees to have his or her case tried to a panel of his peers at a local high school. The high school students, under supervision by a retired or even sitting judge, decide on guilt or innocence and punishment (subject to modification of course by the judge overseeing the process). We like the teen court program because, occasionally, our clients are found not guilty.