District Attorney Charles Branson hopes to launch a new pre-trial prosecutor led diversion program in 2018. Branson started work on the project in early 2017 as part of an effort to find meaningful alternatives to the repeated incarceration of women in the county jail.
The new pre-trial diversion program is aimed at non-violent repeat female offenders. The goal is to offer a program that will allow for quick release from jail to a suite of support services that will address issues of substance abuse, mental health, housing and employment. If the program is completed, pending charges are dismissed with prejudice. If the participant is not successful or does not wish to participate, the criminal case would proceed as normal.
In July, the District Attorney’s office was awarded a Technical Assistance Grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). BJA has partnered with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Center for Court Innovation to assist the District Attorney’s Office with implementing the new program.
The District Attorney’s office has partnered with DCCCA and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s Reentry program. Those agencies were exploring the creation of a substance abuse disorder treatment program and a social detoxification program. “The partnership made sense,” Branson said. “We are all trying to accomplish the same goals, diverting these women from the criminal justice system in a meaningful way that hopefully prevents or delays their return to jail,” Branson continued.
In addition to DCCCA and Reentry, Bert Nash, Douglas County Administration, the Lawrence Douglas County Housing Authority, Friends of Recovery and Douglas County Adult Services are also participating with the creation of the new program.
The program is different from most pre-trial diversion programs because prior convictions may not bar participation in the program. “Not all convictions are the same. Just because someone has a prior conviction does not mean they are excluded from consideration in a program like this. There will be some convictions that will certainly preclude participation such as prior violent felonies,” Branson said. “However, prior minor offenses such as a drug offense or theft are going to be expected in our target population,” Branson concluded.