Joan Jenkins and the MB Juvenile Diversion Program - Looking Out for Our Kids

I recently found out that kids who get arrested in Manhattan Beach for a misdemeanor, like having a party where minors are served, or using a fake ID, or another non-alcohol/drug related violation, are given the chance to be diverted from the juvenile court system to the office of Manhattan Beach City Prosecutor, Joan Stein Jenkins. For those kids willing to do the hard work, to take a look at what is driving their behavior, and to address the underlying issues, they will have a pivotal opportunity that every kid deserves… a chance to get back on the right path without a permanent record to hold them back.

Though I’m not speaking from personal experience, with one minor still under our roof, we definitely are NOT ruling anything out. Because, honestly, no matter how well we nurture our kids, I don’t think any of us can say with certainty that our kids can always navigate the pressures and influences around them, or dodge their genetic predispositions. Alcohol and drug-related harm affect even the most loving and solid families, and the best and brightest kids.

Back to Joan Stein Jenkins– since she launched the Manhattan Beach Juvenile Diversion Program in 2012, more than 300 kids and families have sat with her in her office. These are kids and families who would have otherwise been stuck in court, kids who would have to check the “yes” box in that section of the college application that asks, “Do you have a criminal record?” 

Joan offers these kids a game plan. For some, it may comprise service, counseling, and mentoring, and for others, recovery at a local outpatient program paired with community service and additional counseling. For all, they are expected to come to an understanding of the forces that got them into trouble, to show respect within their family household, and to write about their gratitude for having been given this chance to turn things around.

The Manhattan Beach Juvenile Diversion Program is an incredibly rare thing. Joan’s program is being lauded as a model for other cities throughout the US, and will soon be featured in a Boston University documentary. 

The accolades must be nice, but it’s clear to me that Joan is in this for one reason – the kids, specifically, the ones who have sat in front of her desk, have answered the hard questions, shared their vulnerability, and have done the work. For the vast majority of them, their lives have been changed. She knows it. She’s seen it. And for those kids, the sky’s now the limit. 

What is my hope in sharing this? The hardest part of our talk with Joan was hearing about the current party culture. Here is my new perspective: there are some parties where teens are drinking to numb themselves…where sexual misconduct occurs…where drugs get added into the mix. Considering that reality, I urge each of us to consider calling the MB Police (310-802-5100) if drugs or alcohol are fueling an unsafe, out-of-control situation for teens in our home or anywhere in our town. I truly believe that sitting in front of Joan’s desk is not the worst thing that could happen to any of us.

-Anonymous MB Parent

Joan stein Jenkins has been City Prosecutor for the city of Manhattan Beach since 1998.  Previously, she was City Prosecutor for the city of Torrance and a deputy city prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles as a trial attorney. A graduate of Indiana University and Duke University Law School she has trained as a master mediator and as a trainer of trainers. Joan started and wrote the curriculum for the first peer resolution program in Manhattan Beach schools. She also started Manhattan Beach's unique juvenile diversion program which helps rehabilitate young offenders--it is the first program in the region that prioritizes rehabilitating  young people in a restorative justice model.  Joan has taught mediation in the US and India.