District Attorney’s Office sees reduced recidivism in new adult diversion program
The program launched in August and has accepted about 50 people to participate
BRECKENRIDGE — Dozens of area residents could avoid felony charges thanks to the Fifth Judicial District’s new adult diversion program, a restorative justice initiative meant to keep nonviolent offenders out of jail and instead working to repair the harm they’ve done in the community.
“Our objective is to decriminalize a process that has been a freight train for conviction and criminalization since the Colorado Criminal Code’s inception,” Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said. “This puts us more on the front lines of a national movement in this direction.”
The District Attorney’s Office officially launched the program in August and already has accepted about 50 individuals to participate — about 13% of all people charged with a felony in the district in the past six months, just under district’s short-term goal of 15%.
The idea behind the program is essentially that the system can cut down on the number of people reoffending by pursuing nonpunitive means of justice, meaning offenders can avoid the debilitating impacts of a felony conviction: jail or prison time, potential loss of employment, or impeding a person’s ability to leave the state, obtain licenses or find new employment, among other issues.
Brown also noted the program would save taxpayers money in the long run, reducing costs related to the criminal justice system like the hiring of more probation officers, prosecutors and judges along with expanding jail space to address rising crime rates.
Participants in the program sign a contract outlining stipulations, which could include anything from compensating victims, engaging in mental health or substance use treatment, avoiding further criminal activity, attending regularly scheduled meetings with a diversion coordinator and more. Programs last between six months and two years. If a person successfully completes their contract, any pending charges will be dismissed. Otherwise, the District Attorney’s Office will be notified and charges will be formally filed.
As the program’s first participants begin to graduate in the coming months, officials will be looking at whether they reoffend as a mark of how successful the diversion program has been. Brown noted that participants already have shown an ability to keep out of trouble better than their counterparts on probation or facing trial.
“We’re not just picking the low-hanging fruit,” Brown said. “We’re taking on very challenging cases and offenders because Colorado has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the nation. The definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting a different result. Part of this is about changing the equation in order to hopefully get a different, better result. …
“We did a study about a year ago and found that about 50% of people charged with felonies were either rearrested during pretrial release or on probation. That’s a horrible statistic. Even people being addressed by the criminal justice system aren’t turning around their lives. So if we have a program like this from the same population and we’re not seeing people getting rearrested, even in this short window, we know we’re doing something right.”
In the long term, Brown is hoping the numbers from the program support an expansion in participation, not only in the Fifth Judicial District’s counties — Summit, Lake, Clear Creek and Eagle — but around the state. Brown currently serves on a statewide task force aimed at expanding diversion programs throughout Colorado and introducing a bill and recommendations to the state Legislature on the subject by July.
“We all recognize that locking people up is generally not going to be the solution to get us out of a continuing increase in crime,” Brown said. “We’ve got to figure out different strategies. We’re designing those programs now.”
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