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Tufts senior manages program to help local juveniles get back on track

Published: Monday, April 5, 2010

Updated: Monday, April 5, 2010 07:04

Senior Dean Ladin

Danai Macridi / Tufts Daily

Senior Dean Ladin’s program aims to help local juvenile delinquents avoid repeat offenses.

Senior Dean Ladin was recently announced as one of the recipients of Tufts' 2010 Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service for his extensive work on and off campus. The award is given annually to undergraduate and graduate students who show great achievement in community service and leadership. In addition to serving as a Tisch Scholar, Ladin is also a residential assistant in Wren Hall and Teach for America's on−campus marketing recruiter. Despite the prestige of the Presidential Award, Ladin says that he is most proud of his Tisch Scholar Project, which he founded, and his continuing management of the Middlesex District Attorney's Juvenile Diversion Program.

The program seeks to help the local community by offering juvenile offenders who have committed petty crimes an opportunity to avoid tarnishing their permanent records by successfully completing individualized restitution plans.

During high school, Ladin worked for a similar program in his hometown of Gurnee, Ill. When he came to Tufts, Ladin learned that the local community lacked such a program, and he resolved to create one through the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

"I realized there wasn't [a juvenile diversion program] — there were only three in the entire state of Massachusetts, which I thought was unacceptable, so for my Tisch Scholar Project, I wanted to start one," Ladin said.

In September 2008, Ladin contacted the Medford Police Department to gauge interest in the project. A lieutenant informed him that the district attorney's (DA) office had coincidentally been contemplating starting a similar program. The lieutenant brokered an introduction to Robyn Pontremoli, the community programs coordinator for the Middlesex District Attorney's Office. Together, they began to flesh out the structure of the program.

"It was obviously just an exploratory thing at the beginning, to see how our ideas matched up," Ladin said. "And then it seemed like a good fit to partner up with the DA."

The program is eligible to adolescents aged 12 to 17 who hail from about 20 cities in Middlesex County. Ladin said that participants come from a diverse range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. In its first year, about 40 adolescents enrolled in the program. This year, enrollment climbed to about 60.

The juveniles in the program have committed non−major, petty offenses such as shoplifting or underage possession of alcohol. Ladin said that the juveniles he works with have typically made a few poor choices that could unfortunately end up on their permanent records, or land them in juvenile hall for up to 30 days.

"They're kids who may be starting to head down not such a great path, but who can still get back on the right one," Ladin said.

After the police have apprehended the juvenile offenders, they are taken to the police office where their cases are recorded and forwarded to the DA's office. The DA reviews the case and decides whether or not the person in question can choose to take part in the diversion program.

Should a case be forwarded to the juvenile diversion program, Ladin goes through the police report and schedules an interview with the offender and his or her parents. Together, they come up with an appropriate plan of action, which typically includes things like community service, curfews and classes on decision−making and alcohol awareness.

So that they know the child actually completed the specified actions, Ladin and Pontremoli require a sheet with the letterhead of the organizations; the dates, times and nature of service spelled out in detail; and the supervisor's name, phone number and e−mail address. According to Ladin, the project's contact with these non−profits has been extremely positive.

"We've established good relationships with a lot of the places that we send these kids to," Ladin said.

Ladin tries to ensure that the program does not negatively affect parents' lives by forcing them to take time off from work in order to chaperone their children to classes. He said that parents are typically extremely supportive of the program and are crucial in constructing an appropriate plan of action.

"Parents recognize that this can really help their kid," Ladin said. "We need them to be on board, because they usually play a role in policing something like the curfew."

He remembered one instance in which a child requested a different curfew than he had suggested.

"My rule of thumb [for curfews] is usually 8 p.m," Ladin said. "But there was one time when we had a kid and he seemed like a nice kid, so I gave him a curfew of 9 p.m. And he asked if he could change the curfew to 8 p.m. because he didn't want to be tempted."

The program for each participant lasts from about four months to a year, with an average length of six months. Ladin and Pontremoli determine the length based on the offense and the offenders' attitudes when they come to the DA's office.

"If the kid doesn't seem serious, or that they care enough, then we'll say, you're more than welcome to go in front of the judge and have it on your record," Ladin said.

More often than not, however, Ladin said that the program's participants are appreciative of their chance to redeem themselves.

"We had one kid that we thought didn't really understand what he had done and didn't really care," Ladin said. "Until his Mom asked him to step out for a second, and she told us that the only reason he was acting like that was because he was trying not to cry and was so glad he was getting a second chance."

Once the contract has been signed, Ladin and Pontremoli check in with the participants a few times during the program's duration. Ladin goes to the Cambridge Juvenile Court House every other week to meet with about half−a−dozen juvenile offenders, both new enrollees and those already working to complete their plan.

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