- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CLEVELAND (AP) - A new program instituted by prosecutors and court officials in northeast Ohio will try to give juveniles in Cleveland a better chance of entering diversion programs instead of being charged with crimes.

Cuyahoga County officials say the previous system resulted in roughly half of suburban juveniles having their cases diverted compared with just 7 to 10 percent of juveniles with cases stemming from Cleveland.

“We need to be treating kids fairly in Cuyahoga County no matter where they live,” said Duane Deskins, head of the prosecutor’s office juvenile division.

Under the new program announced Tuesday and scheduled to take effect this week, all juvenile cases in Cuyahoga County will first be considered by an intake unit at juvenile court. That unit will make recommendations to prosecutors, who will decide whether to charge an offender criminally or give the juvenile a chance to enter a diversion program.

The disparity from the old system was rooted in who made decisions about charging a juvenile with a crime. Under a longstanding program, Cuyahoga County juvenile court officials made those decisions for suburban cases while county prosecutors made them for Cleveland cases.

Deskins said the problem with the old system was two-fold. He said prosecutors should have final say in how to bring cases, not court officials, but prosecutors are not necessarily knowledgeable about potential alternatives to criminal charges.

“Our folks aren’t trained as social workers, they’re trained as lawyers and are not as steeped in the diversion process because that’s not their role,” Deskins said.

Deskins said Cuyahoga was the only county in Ohio where juvenile court officials made charging decisions instead of prosecutors.

According to a 2013 report, the county’s juvenile court handled roughly the same number of cases involving children from Cleveland as the suburbs.

Deskins said there are plans to compile and analyze how well children do in diversion programs to determine which ones work best.

Juvenile Court administrative Judge Kristin Sweeney was not available for comment on Wednesday.

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