Build it and They Will Come

Alumna designs diversionary programs app

Photograph by Michael J. Clarke

Defense attorneys, especially when they’re handling low-level offenses like small-quantity drug possession and petty theft, often ask judges to divert their clients into social programs—such as substance abuse treatment or group therapy—to avoid a criminal record.

They do that in part because the effects of a criminal record can be so far-reaching: ineligibility for college scholarships or financial aid, lost opportunities for employment, and denials for private and public housing.

While working in Suffolk’s Juvenile Defender Clinic, Nicole Siino JD’18 saw how difficult it was to find her clients a place in treatment or job programs before they were arraigned, and her student colleagues and public defenders experienced the same problem.

“I sat in court and listened to judges, attorneys, and probation officers talk about dozens of programs designed to help juveniles succeed and discovered that there was no master list of community-based resources. No place to go to do a comprehensive search where you could learn about programs and determine if they had openings,” she says.

The idea that young people would lose an opportunity for professional help and a shot at redemption largely because lawyers and social workers didn’t have a basic web resource seemed wrong.

So she conquered her fear of coding, turning to Suffolk Legal Innovation & Technology (LIT) Lab teachers for instruction. And then she built the tool she envisioned, the Juvenile Resource Finder. Today, Massachusetts attorneys (and anyone else, for that matter) can check her app on their phones from a courtroom—and help their clients avoid the potentially devastating effects of a criminal record. 

Siino is a consultant focusing on legal innovation and technology at Fireman & Company. Find her app at https://suffolklitlab.org/resource-map/.

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