Hampden County District Attorney
It’s called the Emerging Adult Court of Hope, or EACH for short.
The court, blueprinted by Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni in partnership with Springfield District Court and the Massachusetts-based youth-justice nonprofit Roca, is one of very few in the country to focus specifically on high-risk young adults typically aged 18 to 25.
And it was created with the goal of helping these young adults — whose brains, research has shown, are still developing, and whose understanding of consequences and of risk taking is not the same as it is for adults — break the cycle of crime and incarceration that has ruined so many lives by intervening and putting them on the path to not just a job, but a career.
“These are young people who are starting off 100 steps behind, really at birth,” Gulluni told BusinessWest. “They are born into really poor situations, disadvantaged situations with poor role models around them … they never get off on the right foot in school, they’re not supported, they’re not enriched, they’re not resourced, and they end up committing crimes.”
EACH is just one of the number of new programs, initiatives, and events launched by Gulluni and his office since he prevailed in the race for Hampden County DA in 2015, a lengthy list that easily explains why the judges made him a finalist for the 2021 Alumni Achievement Award. Others include:
• A Cold Case Unit that has experienced a number of successes, including an arrest and later a guilty plea to first-degree murder in the 1992 slaying of Lisa Ziegert and, more recently, what amounted to a deathbed near-confession on the part of defrocked Catholic priest Richard Lavigne in the death of Chicopee altar boy Daniel Croteau (Lavigne died before he was set to be charged with the crime);
• The Hampden County Addiction Task Force, a collaboration of community resources, local and state law enforcement, healthcare institutions, service providers, and community coalitions working toward the common goal of a county-wide approach to addressing drug overdoses, addictions, and preventions;
• Development of the Western Massachusetts Human Trafficking Task Force, a collaboration of local, state, and federal law-enforcement partners working on a new approach to pursuing and prosecuting human-trafficking cases based on an understanding that some of those who are traditionally prosecuted for prostitution are victims of force, threat, and coercion;
• The Campus Safety Symposium, which focuses on a multi-disciplinary team approach to the investigation of sexual-assault and domestic-violence complaints and a review and update of applicable laws and the legal issues frequently occurring during these investigations;
• A training event called “Protect, Report and Preserve: Fighting for Elders and Persons with Disabilities” for service providers and care workers to learn best practices for the recognition and reporting of abuse;
• Creation of the District Attorney’s Youth Advisory Board, which consists of local high-school students who meet on a regular basis with the DA’s office to address issues facing today’s teens and research-effective prevention strategies;
• A training event called “How Can You Not Remember? Understanding a Victim’s Response to Violence” for members of the law-enforcement community to highlight a trauma-informed approach to interviewing victims of sexual assault;
• The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children conference, designed for healthcare, mental-health, law-enforcement, and school professionals to provide tools and skills for recognizing and accessing the necessary resources in the aid of children suspected to be victims of exploitation;
• A #StoptheSwerve public-service-announcement contest for Hampden County high-school students to highlight the dangers of impaired driving; and
• A summer job fair and 3-on-3 basketball tournament that combines fun with a chance to learn about employment opportunities.
Slicing through all those new initiatives, Gulluni said that they are the embodiment of the mindset he took while first campaigning for the office.
“During that campaign, we communicated to the public that we could build a safer community by engaging with young people, by preventing crime, and by dealing with the core issues that cause crime, namely addiction, mental illness, and others, while also continuing to do the core work of the district attorney and law enforcement,” he explained, “which is to deter serious crime and to take people who are violent and repeat offenders off the streets.
“And when I look back on the first six and half years, I really feel that we’ve lived out that very philosophy,” he went on, adding that recent headlines have provided testimony to the progress his office has made.
Lavigne’s deathbed interview with Massachusetts State Trooper Michael McNally, which was front-page news across the state and beyond, tops that list in most respects, but there have been many other developments, including multiple arrests of members of the Knox Street Posse, a local street gang in Springfield, the first strike made by the Strategic Action and Focused Enforcement Team, which operates out of the DA’s office. The sweep resulted in the seizure of 20 firearms, 100,000 bags of heroin, and approximately 2.8 kilograms of cocaine.
And then, there’s EACH, which was first conceived more than four years ago. It first convened in March 2020 and was slowed in its development by the pandemic, but early results are very positive, said Gulluni, noting that the court has caught the attention of both the press and other regions looking to emulate it because of its potential to intervene and help steer young, high-risk youths to a different path.
“We’re intervening and wrapping these young people with support and services,” he explained. “We have seven young people in the court, and they’ve really begun their turnaround. And we’re dealing with high-risk young people — these are people with records who have committed serious offenses for which they would almost certainly be going to jail.”
As noted, EACH is just one of the initiatives that have not just made Gulluni a finalist for this award, but are changing lives in this region.