“The sky is the limit” for the first graduate of Springfield’s new judiciary program

For a moment, the typically somber atmosphere of Springfield District Court Room 2 broke with an air of celebration as a single legal proceeding wrapped up Thursday afternoon.

Both prosecutors and Hampden County defense attorneys had reason to celebrate when an ambitious undertaking led by District Attorney Anthony Gulluni came to fruition with the first graduate of the Emerging Adult Court of Hope (EACH), a diversion court for at-risk young adults.

Carlton Ford, 24, of Springfield had more reason to celebrate when he became the first graduate of EACH, a new justice program that offers individuals in the criminal justice system the opportunity to complete a program in order to obtain dismissal and finally the striking of the criminal charges from their register. The courthouse is unique in Massachusetts and among few in the nation, according to Gulluni.

  • Read more: A Second Chance: Emerging Adult Court of Hope offers a fresh start

“Important to me on this journey has been the ability to learn different things about myself and the way I think,” Ford told MassLive ahead of the court hearing. “And the program has helped me act on my values ​​and deal with stress. And I have people to talk to.

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First Graduate of the Emerging Adult Court of Hope on Thursday, December 15, 2022.

EACH started in February 2020 for people with criminal charges who must first plead guilty before being admitted to alternative court. EACH offers individuals the opportunity to get their charges dismissed upon completion. The emerging adult court focuses on young adult offenders, typically between the ages of 18 and 24, who are too old for the juvenile court system but who Gulluni says can change their lives.

The pandemic has delayed the early stages of the court’s progress, but Gulluni said the past year has seen big growth from program membership.

There are currently eight participants in EACH – all men, although it is available to women – who must complete an 18-month regimen that is overseen by a collaborative effort between their probation officer, the district attorney’s office, a presiding judge and Roca Springfield and Roca Holyoke, two offices attached to a national institute that works to address violence by working with youth.

  • Read more: The long way from prison

Ford first joined EACH in September 2021 and completed it within 15 months. He graduated Thursday with a CDL license and with well-paid career prospects, not work, as Gulluni underlined in a previous interview.

“We do everything around the idea that these young people deserve an opportunity,” Gulluni said during the court hearing. “That they can do something with their lives if they have the opportunity and if they work for it… It has become a labor of love. And we do it because we believe in these young people and in the young people to come”.

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Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni watches Carlton Ford before Judge Kevin Maltby on Thursday, December 15, 2022 in the Springfield District Court.

Gulluni said that EACH hasn’t been “successful across the board” and that his office has faced “challenges and problems” along the way.

Present Thursday was the mother of David Ballard, a 22-year-old Springfield man enrolled in EACH, who was killed in December 2021 after being shot on Union Street. Ballard appeared last year in a MassLive story about the early stages of EACH.

Even with the program’s share of setbacks, Gulluni noted that EVERY continues to provide at-risk young adults the ability to change the trajectory of their lives. Ford, for example, faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months if he was convicted of his original charges of illegally carrying a firearm.

“All these months later, he’s a different person — he’s really blossomed,” Gulluni said of Ford. “He is more communicative and open. If things had taken their normal course” – referring to the conviction – “he probably would have just gotten out of prison.

Gulluni described the goals for EACH as challenging, as participants must report for their work at 6:45 each morning, abstain from alcohol and drugs, and must participate in community service and mandatory therapy.

“It’s help, not alms,” Gulluni said.

Gulluni conceived EACH after learning of the Young Adult Court in San Francisco, a court set up in summer 2015 for eligible young adults, ages 18 to 24. The courthouse was the first of its kind nationwide, and other programs have since launched in Brooklyn and Chicago.

  • Read more: Facing criminal charges, these young adults were given a second chance to spend Christmas with family

Finding stable housing is a challenge that Gulluni said his firm and other architects at EACH have had to adapt to. High prices in the current housing market make it difficult for participants to find secure accommodation.

“You can’t show up for work on time and you can’t be rested unless you have a place to call your own that is stable and clean,” Gulluni said. Service providers like Way Finders of Springfield have stepped in to help.

On Thursday, Springfield District Court Judge Kevin Maltby oversaw the prosecution of EACH and described the flexible nature of the program.

“Each participant is individualized in terms of what their needs are and where they are in the program,” Maltby said at the hearing. “And we pay specific attention to each of them and their goals.”

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District Attorney Anthony Gulluni (left) with Carlton Ford, Judge Kevin Maltby and ROCA Western Mass. Regional Director Solomon Baymon on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022.

Maltby listed over a dozen members of the court’s probation department, members of the Hampden district attorney’s office and Roca to underline the collective effort undertaken to reach the court’s first graduation ceremony.

At the climax of the proceedings, the District Attorney’s Office prosecutors filed for a new trial and the nolle prosequi, or formal dismissal of the charges, went into effect.

At the close of the hearing, Ford delivered a few parting words to the other EACH attendees seated in the courtroom gallery.

“I know it’s hard, but if you focus on yourself you’ll get through it,” Ford said. “Think about your future because if you get stuck in the past, you will end up doing the same thing.”

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Carlton Ford speaks with District Attorney Gullini and Judge Maltby following the graduation of EACH on Friday, December 15, 2022.

Regarding the brighter future Ford is facing, his defense attorney Jeremy Bramson said, “There are all kinds of doors, you might not even think of, that wouldn’t be open to someone with that on their record. Of course, there are jobs they can’t get, schools they couldn’t attend, government assistance they couldn’t qualify for, and places they couldn’t live. And it’s a big deal not having it in his disk of him to really do whatever he wants.

“The sky’s the limit for him now,” Bramson said.

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