Albany County DA program gives second chance to some non-violent felony youths

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — As violence in the City of Albany continues, so does the Albany County DA Office’s program to redirect youth away from the criminal justice system, and onto a path to success.

A young woman had her charges of forging a weapon dismissed in Albany County Court on Thursday. She appeared before Judge Andra Ackerman, having completed her time in the Albany County District Attorney’s Reclamation Felony Youth Diversion program. The young woman is currently a nursing student.

 “I get tears in my eyes when they come to us, because I hear about the sad things that have happened,” said Leslie Phelan, who is on the board that approves entry into the program, “but then I get tears in my eyes, of joy, because they’ve graduated. They’ve done everything they were supposed to do, and they have a full life ahead of them.”

“We’re looking for people with no prior criminal history, who are motivated to admit,” said prosecutor and program coordinator Renee Merges, “to take responsibility and to begin their life on a different trajectory…a trajectory out of the criminal justice system.”

Merges says Thursday’s graduate of the program spent about two years working toward her charge dismissal, but many students take longer because they don’t have as much support.

Once a participant enters the program, Albany County DA Community Justice and Outreach Manager David Graham directs them through the next steps.

“We have trained community members who surround these individuals and help to figure out what’s really going on here,” Graham told News10, “it’s an opportunity….to facilitate the reparation of justice and the repairing of harm done to the society, to the community, and whoever is involved.”

When it comes down to it, according to Graham, these young individuals want structure, and to know someone has their back while they work toward getting better.

“At the end of the day, people don’t really care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” Graham said.

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