DA’s new women-only diversion program aims to close ‘revolving door of incarceration’ fueled by addiction

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

It is not unusual for the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office to see women who are in court — over and over — because of behavior driven by addiction.

“Their crimes are usually felonies but of a nonviolent nature,” DA Charles Branson said. “Because of the nature of the crime, often they are released on bond and reoffend, or fail on bond before their original court case is concluded.”

A new diversion program, launched last week, is envisioned to keep women like this out of jail by helping them get clean.

An intense “suite” of wraparound services is all part of the program — from detox, to inpatient or intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment, to mental health counseling, to housing assistance, to child care.

The program is only for women who live in Douglas County, have at least one prior offense on their records, have a substance abuse disorder officially diagnosed by DCCCA and agree to participate in a treatment plan for at least 12 months, according to the DA’s office. The program is for women with nonviolent misdemeanor charges, though felony or violent charges will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“The goal of this program is to divert the participant from the jail to a treatment-based diversion program that will offer a chance for recovery and support,” Branson said. “The ultimate goal is to stop the revolving door of incarceration.”

Like typical diversions, if the women commit a new crime or otherwise fail to meet the requirements of their diversion agreement, their case will return to criminal court to be prosecuted.

Unlike typical diversions, which cost $100 to apply for in Douglas County, there’s no application and no fee for participants in this program, Branson said.

Re-entry case managers are to propose potential participants to the DA’s office, which reviews their cases and notifies eligible women’s attorneys to invite them to participate.

The previous offense requirement also is unique. Although a previous conviction does not preclude defendants from getting criminal diversions in Douglas County, it makes them less likely to be granted under the DA’s main diversion programs.

Branson said he began working on the program in early 2017 and, in July, received a Bureau of Justice Administration technical assistance grant to help implement it. The Douglas County Commission provided $110,000 toward treatment services for the program in 2018, he said.

The program will accept eight to 12 participants a year, Branson said.

The program’s official name is long: Douglas County Women’s Substance Use Disorder Prosecutor-Led Diversion and Treatment Program. The DA’s office has dubbed it the WDP.

This list of agencies working together to provide services for participants also is long: Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Reentry Program, DCCCA, Douglas County Criminal Justice Services and Court Services, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center Integrated Dual Diagnosis Team, Friends of Recovery, Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority and the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, specifically professors Margaret Severson and Jason Matejkowski collecting data and interviewing participants as part of the program evaluation.

Details about the program and its implementation are online at dgcoda.org.