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DA Krasner Announces Launch of Specialized Unit to Improve Justice Outcomes for Young Adults, Increase Public Safety

PHILADELPHIA (January 31, 2022) — The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) is proud to announce the launch of the Emerging Adult Unit (EAU) to improve outcomes for young adults aged 18 through 25. The EAU’s approach is consistent with DAO initiatives involving juvenile justice, diversion, and restorative justice, and will help heal communities and improve public safety.Using an individualized approach to justice, the EAU will consult with victim service organizations and the Defender Association of Philadelphia to resolve lower-level felony and misdemeanor cases. This unit will not consider any cases involving firearms, domestic violence, sexual assault, or other serious felonies. The EAU will initially review approximately 500 cases per month with the goal of connecting young adults to job training, mentoring, and educational programming. Once the EAU reviews a case and an offer is made to the defendant, upon completion of the offer’s requirements, charges may be withdrawn or reduced in order to lessen the social and economic damage that a criminal conviction inflicts.While other jurisdictions have laudably pioneered similar efforts in years prior, the DAO is the first prosecutor’s office in the nation to establish a dedicated unit that approaches accountability and growth for young adults based on adolescent brain science. The Supreme Court has relied on this science to eliminate the Juvenile Death Penalty and Juvenile Life Without Parole, finding that the actions of youth may not be evidence of unchangeable character. The research shows that during this phase of development, and until maturation in their mid-twenties, emerging adults may act impulsively and respond to peer pressure in ways that are more likely to bring them into the criminal justice system. Research also shows that adolescents and young adults have enormous capacities for change as they learn to channel their emotional responses and temper their risk-taking behavior. This period of an emerging adult’s life provides a significant opportunity to steer them away from crime through positive connections and mentoring.“America’s criminal justice system for too long has ignored a scientific approach to accountability and favored punishment over rehabilitation,” said DA Larry Krasner (he/him). “The Emerging Adult Unit, and similar efforts in other jurisdictions, are using widely-accepted brain science to help reform our criminal justice system, increase public safety, and hold young adults appropriately accountable.”“The DAO Emerging Adult Unit specializes in targeted prosecutorial responses that engage emerging adults in work, counseling, and education,” said Sangeeta Prasad (she/her), a Stoneleigh Fellow at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. “It is supported by science and focused on preventing future crime. We need this now more than ever.”“We need to break old habits and respond to crime in new, but informed ways,” said Assistant District Attorney Caleb Arnold (they/them), DAO Immigration Counsel/Emerging Adult Unit. “We are catching up on the science and research that is already well-established. Our young adults need connection, mentorship, and access to the skills and knowledge they need to build a successful future. I am excited to be engaged in work that increases community safety, holds young adults accountable in a way that also invests in our communities, and builds stability and hope for young adults.”“Connecting young adults to programs and opportunities really pushes them to be better people,” said 20-year-old Andy Dipestre, an Energy Coordinating Agency-trained HVAC technician. “The program has really changed my outlook on life. Sometimes, people are in a dark place and need a little extra push to get them to where they need to be.”“The Philadelphia DA’s office is ahead of the curve and has become a national model,” says Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Fellow, Columbia Justice Lab and former Commissioner, New York City Department of Correction. “When the first juvenile court was established in 1899, the founders relied on the norms of the day, not science. Philadelphia is using the well developed body of research now available. Not only will this Unit support better youth outcomes, it will support safer and healthier communities for all of us.”The effectiveness of specialized interventions for emerging adults is well-recognized. Several judge-led program around the country provide young system-involved individuals with education, counseling, and training options. For example, the Brooklyn Young Adult Court provides high-risk young adults in the justice system with assessments and social service interventions. As a result, participants receive fewer criminal convictions than non-participants without a negative impact on public safety.

Several prosecutors also have recognized that emerging adults are different and that treating them differently makes us safer. For example, the prosecutor-led PATH program in Long Beach, California, offers young people ages 16 to 24 who are charged with minor offenses the opportunity to participate in services rather than face criminal prosecution. Program participants receive job training and education, including anti-recidivism courses on decision-making. Those who successfully complete PATH have their charges withdrawn and kept off their record. The City Prosecutor is looking to expand eligibility to those over the age of 24.Nearly 7,500 cases annually within Philadelphia’s justice system involve emerging adults. It is the Krasner administration’s goal, with increased funding in the future, to safely and appropriately expand the EAU’s footprint and provide more programming access to system-involved young adults.

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million residents of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for the prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually.