District Attorney’s Office wraps first year of adult diversion program
The Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its adult diversion program, a restorative justice initiative launched last August that helps felony offenders avoid the courtroom and try to fix the harm they’ve done in the community in more holistic ways.
For offenders, the program serves as an opportunity to right their wrongs without otherwise uprooting their lives with a jail sentence.
“When you look at recidivism in Colorado, generally people who are placed on probation or in jail come out and reoffend,” said District Attorney Bruce Brown. “That’s clearly not working, and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. So we’re rolling different dice. We’re going to change the way we do things in hopes that at least for some of those offenders we can lead them down a different path.”
If someone commits a felony crime, they may be eligible for entry into the program based on a recommendation from the prosecuting attorney, and an initial screening process that takes a look at criminal history and other factors that may have contributed to the offense like substance abuse, mental health issues, education, employment, family situation and more. Of note, people who commit more serious or aggravated offenses — sexual assault, homicide, or assault on a peace officer — and frequent offenders likely won’t be eligible.
Once an individual is invited to participate, they’ll embark on a six-to-24 month program designed by the district attorney’s office, and will be required to complete a number of outlined terms and conditions that could include everything from paying restitutions, writing an apology letter to the victim, engaging with substance abuse treatment, finishing their education and more.
The office is also offering more unique wellness opportunities for participants, asking some to take part in things like yoga, meditation and equine therapy.
“It’s a very new concept that I came up with after receiving feedback from people in the program that didn’t think things like online courses were very helpful,” said Audrey Radlinski, the office’s adult diversion coordinator. “… So I started looking into other things. I went to the Blue River Horse Center and we spoke about collaborating, having people come up to have the opportunity to volunteer at the ranch and thrift store. And things like yoga and meditation can be more beneficial than taking an online anger management course. There’s a lot to be learned in terms of self control, controlling your emotions and calming yourself.”
To date, there have been 65 participants in the program. Ten have already successfully completed it, five have had their participation revoked, one case was dismissed and the rest are still actively engaged in the process. Of note, individuals who fail to complete the program, whether due to another offense or other contract violations, will then be prosecuted as normal.
Brown said that trying to judge the program’s success after one year is difficult, with most participants still trying to complete their plans. Instead, the office will be actively reaching out to former participants and checking in on any new interactions with the criminal justice system to determine the program’s effectiveness three, five or 10 years down the road.
The Fifth Judicial District has also had a juvenile diversion program for several years, and next year the district will be expanding its restorative justice efforts to include an adult misdemeanor diversion program, thanks in part to a state grant.
And while the district’s diversion programs are expanding — funded largely by Summit, Lake, Clear Creek and Eagle counties — other districts interested in changing direction are being left to their own devices.
“Overall funding to diversion programs is being cut,” Brown said. “That’s a huge concern. We are in a unique position in part because we have a holistic thinking community, with commissioners that believe in programming like this. I’m confident they will continue to step up to the plate. The question is whether other communities — maybe without as forward thinking representatives — are going to have to go it alone, or with the state as a partner.”
Brown said he anticipates it will cost about $250,000 to run all three diversion programs annually.
But at least locally, officials are excited about the growing opportunities.
“I’m really excited about it,” Radlinski said. “The importance of these programs is to repair the harm that’s done to the community and victims, but also to rehabilitate that person. … The first thing they have to do is accept responsibility for their actions, and try to repair that harm. But this also allows us to address all the surrounding circumstances that may have caused that behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.”
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