District Attorney’s Office to launch adult diversion program in August
FRISCO — The District Attorney’s Office is looking to improve the way low-level crimes are handled in Summit County and beyond, hoping to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders in the community in lieu of sticking them behind bars.
The Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office — which includes Summit, Eagle, Lake and Clear Creek counties — is set to roll out a new adult diversion program Aug. 1, a shift from the more punitive measures in the past into a new restorative justice paradigm.
“We tend to focus on the act of the person who committed a crime — what that was and punishing them for that act,” said Amy Padden, a deputy district attorney who joined the DA’s office last month to help develop the program. “The secondary issue is rehabilitation. A lot of these offenses have harmed our community. The idea with this program is to try and address that harm.”
The goal of the program is for low-level offenders to be able to make reparations for their crimes without being taken away from their jobs and support systems to be put in jail or prison, which might increase the likelihood they offend again. Once started, the Fifth Judicial District will join at least 10 other Colorado districts running similar programs.
The Fifth Judicial District already runs a successful juvenile diversion program. In December, deputy district attorney Lisa Hunt told the Summit Daily News that about 90% of eligible youths in the district are sent through the program following risk assessments. According to a study of the district’s juvenile diversion program by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (2014–17), more than 85% of the district’s participants completed their program. Among those who completed the program, there was a 10.7% recidivism rate, considerably lower than the statewide average of 15.9%.
“Our ultimate goal is to take the resources we have out of the courtroom and put them back into the community,” Padden said. “We’re trying to identify first the people who don’t belong in the system and keep them in their communities. If they go spend a couple weeks in jail or a couple years in prison, they’re going to lose their jobs, they might lose their home, and they might not have the family support available to them when they come back. If we can identify ahead of time people we think are less likely to reoffend and not put them back into the prison system at all, we’re going to be successful in having those people in the community continuing to contribute.”
Padden said the program would focus primarily on nonviolent, low-level, first-time offenders who will be identified as potential participants by the DA’s office. Once identified, individuals will be screened for a number of risk and protective factors to determine eligibility, including their employment situation, housing, support systems, history of substance abuse or mental health disorders, and more.
Padden noted that admittance into the program, along with the specifics of the contracts, would be handled on a case-by-case basis. Participants will sign a contract stipulating provisions that they can’t commit any other crimes along with more personalized provisions when appropriate, such as required drug or mental health counseling. Additionally, participants will have mandatory meetings and weekly checkins with the DA’s office and might have to pay reparations or write a letter of apology among other possible conditions.
Most contracts likely would last 18 to 24 months. Individuals who successfully complete their program will have their charges dismissed. Those who don’t will be subject to an extension of the contract and additional restitution or, in more severe cases, termination of the contract and the formal adjudication of the original charges in court.
Padden said that along with obvious advantages for participants, the program would have benefits to the greater community. The move is expected to save taxpayers money — along with court costs, it costs $30,000 to $40,000 a year to incarcerate someone in Colorado depending on the facility (excluding Level 5 facilities like San Carlos Correctional Facility, which costs more than $105,000 per inmate per year), according to data from the Colorado Department of Corrections.
The program also is meant to enhance community safety by freeing up prosecutors and court resources to focus on bigger issues like violent crimes.
“Traditionally, the focus has been on punishment, but that doesn’t really work,” Padden said. “When you pull someone away who made a mistake — they got in a bad spot and made a poor decision — you’re tearing them away from their support system and putting them somewhere where they may not be able to get the treatment they need. We’re not advancing the goals of community service or rehabilitation. … Hopefully, we can get these offenders to turn their lives around. We do believe it will make a difference moving forward.”
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