Getting Answers: court program offering hope to young offenders
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - The Emerging Adult Court of Hope, known as EACH, was created by the Hampden District Attorney’s office four years ago. It’s a first-of-its-kind in the Bay State with the mission to change the lives of young people facing criminal charges.
“I was already a year and a half into my bid, " said Carlton Ford. “I could’ve went a free man after that and took the charge and said ‘Whatever,’ but I decided to go with EACH because they said they would take my felony off my record, so that’s what I did.”
At 21-years-old, Ford was facing two years behind bars for carrying a gun without a license and smoking marijuana in an unregistered car back in March 2020. Now, three years later, Carlton has a clean record. He is a licensed truck driver with the goal of purchasing his own truck and starting his own company.
“I kind of already had a good job. I was doing alright. Got into it, being around the wrong people at the wrong time, so I ended up going to jail for, I think, three months,” sadi Sedale Collymore.
Sedale Collymore was 23-years-old when he was charged with home invasion in August 2019 with the possibility of spending 10 years behind bars, but today, his record is clear and he’s working in maintenance at Behavioral Health Network.
It was at the Springfield Trial Court that both Collymore and Ford made the decision to turn their lives around, pleading into the Emerging Adult Court of Hope, a specialty court launched by the Hampden District Attorney’s Office in 2019.
“Essentially, the idea is what can we do better with this population while understanding there are serious public safety concerns, but on the other hand, there’s young people that deserve an opportunity to change their lives,” said Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni.
Gulluni created the court as an alternative to jail time, allowing those 18 to 24 years old to plead guilty to the charges they’re facing, but with the opportunity to have their records cleared at the end of the program.
“We’re really taking chances on people, maybe their last chances before they end up in a really serious situation: a long-term jail sentence...It’s really about understanding that accountability is important. It’s difficult. It’s challenging. They feel stressed. A lot of it is brand new to them, but it’s all really designed to get them to a better place in their lives,” Gulluni explained.
EACH consists of four phases that focus on relationship building, education, and career aspirations over 18 to 24 months with some participants taking longer than others. Ford completed the program in just 14 months while it took Collymore a bit longer, but both men said it wasn’t until more than halfway through when they started to see real change.
“Phase three, because when I got to Phase three, it was almost like I had to jump through a couple of hurdles like getting my license back and I already had a GED and all this stuff, but if you’re a newcomer into this program, by Phase three, you’ll already have a GED and your license. You’ll feel better. You’ll feel better as a person,” said Collymore.
“Phase three because Phase three really focuses on finding your career, not just a regular job. You find yourself and what you want to do in the future,” Ford added.
Collymore was one of the many participants of the program who saw Ford become the first graduate of the EACH program and he was eager to join him on the other side.
“I felt relieved just looking back at the other ones. Hopefully, they’ll see it’s not impossible to reach your goals and graduate,” Ford said.
“We understand what the other one was going through. When I see them at my graduation, it was like ‘This doesn’t last forever. This won’t last forever.’ What you put into it is what you get out of it,” Collymore added.
As part of the process, the D.A.’s office partners with the Massachusetts Trial Court and ROCA, a non-profit that works with high-risk youth. Collymore and Ford expressed their gratitude for the people there who have taken the time to invest in them as people.
“You become more invested into it. You kind of build like a family. Like when I come here all the time, it’s always smiles and warm embrace. These people, I’ll probably keep visiting and see for the rest of my life. If you are invested and they see that, they will invest time in you,” Collymore explained.
Gulluni told Western Mass News that EACH currently has 10 participants aside from their two graduates, but he’s looking to grow that number to 25 participants and with hopes of helping out more young adults who find themselves in trouble with the law.
“These young people really start committing offenses as kids, juveniles. Those offenses are dealt with a small touch, but those offenses get more serious...Brains continue to develop well into the mid 20s and without that full development, those young people have a different understanding of consequences. They’re more impulsive and they think and react more quickly than older adults,” Gulluni explained.
It’s a program Collymore and Ford can attest does make a real difference.
“To be honest, no, I think I would be in a much worse situation if I didn’t go through ROCA, probably doing life or something like that,” Ford said.
“Kind of building myself up and building my life back together and when you’re done, I realized ‘Wow, I have this opportunity and this job,’” Collymore explained.
Gulluni said his office is accepting applicants for the court while also taking a look at cases that come through their office that fit the criteria and he is hoping to expand each to other courts across the state, having already spoke with the Suffolk County District Attorney about the success they’ve seen so far.
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