One year after its formal launch, the Albany County District Attorney’s Office is celebrating the success of its Clean Slate program.
The diversion program takes certain non-violent offenders between the ages of 16 and 24 out of the typical criminal justice system and puts them on a restorative path.
The diversion board meets with young felony offenders once a month to decide if they should be prosecuted, or given the chance to lead a non-criminal life. If accepted, Clean Slate participants will begin will work with the Community Accountability Board, or CAB.
“These are young people that have made mistakes. That made poor decisions – decisions that could have been made better had they had the right resources around them,” said diversion board co-chair Pedro Perez.
CAB works with the offenders to create a contract. It can include getting a job, finishing school, or making a formal apology to any victims of the crime committed.
"It is business. We never want them to think, 'OK, I escaped the judge, and I'll come in here and tell a nice-sounding story and I'm off,’ ” said Community Accountability Board Member E. Geneva Conway.
Of the 18 people to join, five have been sent back to the traditional prosecutorial system. Two have completed it so far, ultimately sealing their records.
"If one young person is able to have a future as a result of what we're doing, that's a success," said Albany County DA David Soares. "To be able to pick someone up, give them an opportunity, dust them off, send them out into the real world. They're going to define what success really means for us."
We spoke to an 18-year-old participant, who has asked not to be identified. A year and a half into his program, he's hoping to be Clean Slate's next success story.
"At first, it was a little nerve wracking, because you don't know what's going to happen or where it’s going to go, but eventually I came to the realization that it was better than I thought it was going to be," he said.
He's set to graduate high school this month, and will be off to college, grateful for the second chance.
"You have to be able to choose who is good to be around and who is not and also to be able to say no to things. Because sometimes it might not seem easy to say no, but you got to do what's good for yourself," he said.
Moving forward, all of the key players say the next step is more community participation, including volunteers, non-profits and the faith-based community.