"Historic" Agreement To Equalize Case Processing Of City And Suburban Juvenile Offenders

Kristin Sweeney, Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge and Chief Prosecutor Tim McGinty (pic: Brian  Bull)
Kristin Sweeney, Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge and Chief Prosecutor Tim McGinty (pic: Brian Bull)
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Since 2001, the County Prosecutor’s Office has helped take on some juvenile offender cases for the juvenile court. But a recent study looking at Cuyahoga County found disparities in how city kids and those from suburbia fared under that arrangement.

A spokesman for the County Prosecutor’s Office says about half of suburban offenders were referred to diversion, an opportunity for the offender to pay restitution, work on personal development, or otherwise avoid jail time.

But only 7 to 10 percent of city offenders had the same outcome…an unacceptable difference, says Kristin Sweeney, the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge.

“And so there was a perception that all kids did not have the same opportunities for diversion," said Judge Sweeney. "And that maybe cases were handled differently, depending on who did the charging: the Prosecutor’s Office, or the Court’s intake office.”

The new agreement lets the juvenile court’s Intake and Diversion Unit screen all juvenile cases, and make recommendations for charges or intervention. The Juvenile Justice Unit of the Prosecutor’s Office then gets the cases, and acts on the recommendations.

Among those backing the new arrangement is Duane Deskins, First Assistant County Prosecutor and Chief Juvenile Prosecutor.

“This historic collaboration will produce a greater number of eligible diversions, more precise charging, and mechanisms to improve the accountability, transparency, and outcomes for juvenile offenders," said Deskin. "With this approach, Cuyahoga County becomes the national model.”

The memorandum of understanding became effective immediately after signing by representatives of the County Prosecutor’s Office and Juvenile Justice System.

Among the signers was Tim McGinty, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor. He said a recent study showed that his office’s role in taking over some charging and diversion cases starting in 2001, created a split system of justice, between offenders from Cleveland and those from the suburbs.

“Where an offender lives should not be and will here on not be a factor," stated McGinty. "In short, the suburban cases got a better deal than the Cleveland cases, it was pointed out to us a year or so ago. And…there was an inequity in the charging system. And that is in great part our fault, we’re looking at it, and we’ve accepted the correction that the court and others have pointed us to.”

The signing comes following Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which organizers say represents the county’s efforts to bring greater equality to the juvenile justice system.

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