Breaking the law can negatively impact your life, but when you’re a juvenile, breaking the law can take you down a path of no return.
Every year, juvenile offenders enter the criminal justice system, and the stigma of being a so-called “criminal” can be hard to shake as you try to grow up and try to move on with your life.
Here in Tarrant County, we’ve seen an increase in family violence cases involving juvenile offenders, and our county knows that entering the system can be detrimental to a young person’s life.
For this reason, Tarrant County has created a special diversion program for youthful offenders between the ages of 17 and 25 who have been arrested for assault against a non-intimate family member.
Let’s first take an in-depth look at this program and then see how it has helped a number of youths change their lives for the better.
What Is Tarrant County’s YODA Program?
The YODA program, which began in March 2011, is the Youthful Offender Diversion Alternative program for youthful offenders who have committed assault against a non-intimate family member. The definition of a “non-intimate” family member is a blood relative or a relative related by marriage or intimate relationship with another family member, including parents, siblings, and step family members.
YODA’s goal is to counsel and work with the juvenile offenders to address the factors and circumstances that led to the assault in the first place, and then find solutions and develop skills “to help them move their lives away from future criminality and violence.”
Program participants will be able to stabilize their lives, use resources that will support continued development, and establish achievable goals in order to earn a dismissal and avoid both a criminal conviction and a criminal record.
The eligibility requirements for the YODA program include:
- You must be a first-time offender – although juveniles with prior charges can possibly be considered, albeit on a case-by-case basis.
- You have to be between 17 and 25 at the time of enrollment, although a majority of participants are between 17 and 19.
- You cannot be on probation or parole.
- You cannot have any other pending charges.
- You cannot have any pending felony charges or felony convictions.
Besides the eligibility requirements, the offender has to be willing to put in the time and effort needed to change. In addition to following the YODA program’s rules and attendance policy and staying sober and drug-free, the juvenile will be required to attend weekly counseling sessions and reveal personal information about their life and the circumstances that led to the arresting assault.
Although YODA participants have clean records, they typically have other problems in their lives whether it’s with school, work, or personal and family relationships. The program hopes to address these problems and help the juveniles deal with them in a healthy, non-violent way.
Participants typically spend four to six months in the program with a midway evaluation to assess their progress and make sure they’re still doing what they set out to do.
YODA was originally funded by a grant of $92,000 grant from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, and continues to be funded by grants, which means there is currently no charge to the youth or his or her family to participate in the program. The only thing the offender is required to pay for is the mandatory random drug test.
The YODA Program: A Case Study
When 22-year-old Alejandro wanted to use the family computer and his sister was already using it, he got angry. He then got even angrier when his father stepped in.
Alejandro, who had never been in trouble with the law before, trashed his parents’ house. Then he pushed his father, injuring his mother in the process. The police were called, and he was charged with misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member.
Alejandro was referred to YODA and he successfully completed the program, saying, “It made me think more maturely, think about the stuff that I was doing before…I’m more calm. All I want to focus on right now is on my job and my GED. I’m trying to take it step by step.”
Alejandro is just one of many youths who have gone through the YODA program and have changed their lives for the better. If you think the YODA program might be the best choice for you or for your child, reach out to an experienced Ft. Worth juvenile crimes attorney today to discuss your case and get your questions answered.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.