SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico– This week, a total of 47 students from the Alejandro Jr. Cruz Elementary School and the José Pablo Morales Miranda Middle School in Toa Alta graduated from the Project LEAD school program in a ceremony held in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. In January of 2023, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico began a 20-week school curriculum in both schools. The curriculum focused on the legal and social consequences of juvenile crimes and included techniques to help students resolve conflicts and resist peer pressure. Assistant United States Attorney Dennise Longo Quiñones, Chief of the Public Affairs and Community Engagement Division was the facilitator in charge of leading the weekly sessions with the students.
Project LEAD (Legal Enrichment and Decision-making) was established in 1993 by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Its goal is to teach children that the choices they make today can affect their lives forever. An evaluation of the program conducted by Bernadette Chi, PhD and Ellen Middaugh, M.A. of the University of California, Berkley showed that Project LEAD provides:
- Protective factors that decrease students’ propensity to become involved in negative and illegal activities.
- An increase in students’ knowledge about the legal system.
- An increase in positive dispositions, for example: Confidence in their own decision-making capacities; Attitudes about the legal system; and Attitudes about authority.
The USAO launched the program in two public schools in Loíza in December of 2020. The USAO translated the Project LEAD program into the Spanish language and tailored the curriculum to focus on situations that youth in the District of Puerto Rico are likely to encounter. The 20-week curriculum focuses on the social and legal consequences of juvenile crimes, such as truancy, illicit drug use, shoplifting, graffiti, animal abuse, and bullying. Project LEAD also teaches students techniques to resolve conflicts, resist peer pressure, promote tolerance and respect for diversity, and the role of education to achieve economic stability. Students also learn about the federal and state judicial systems, including how each operates, and the roles played by prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and defendants in the litigation process. The curriculum concludes with the students’ performance of a scripted mock trial, putting into practice what they have learned about the criminal justice system.
United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico W. Stephen Muldrow stated: “We are grateful for the schools and the parents who trusted the USAO personnel along with other state and federal law enforcement agencies to provide the students with the skills and experience to evaluate challenging situations and help them make good decisions. We are looking forward to expanding our Project LEAD with the participation of the personnel from the Proyecto de Seguridad y Educación para el Desarrollo de la Niñez who have adopted our program and will continue to work along with us to continue with our project throughout Puerto Rico.”
This Project was possible with the collaboration of many federal and state agencies. Special thanks to the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico; the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico; the Federal Public Defender; the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Council; the PR Department of Justice; the PR Department of Public Safety; the PR Department of Education, in particular, the personnel at the Bayamón Regional Office; the PR Police Bureau; the PR Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; the Administration of Juvenile Institutions; the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources; and personnel from the US Attorney’s Office.