Douglas County district attorney’s office to unveil new diversion program during County Commission meeting

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

The Douglas County Commission will soon get its first look at a new local criminal justice program that aims to divert suspects in criminal cases away from incarceration.

The County Commission on Wednesday will meet with Douglas County district attorney’s office staff during a work session to discuss the diversion program.

According to a description provided to the commissioners, the new program’s goals include improving “quality of life” for participants through community services, increasing court efficiency by decreasing the case load processed by the district court and reducing the number of inmates housed in the Douglas County Jail.

“The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office recognizes that its responsibilities extend beyond its chief function of ensuring public safety,” the office said in the program description. “While public safety and victims’ rights are paramount, societal interests such as equal access to justice and offender reformation can often be served through alternatives to incarceration.”

To participate in the diversion program, individuals will be required to enter an agreement with the district attorney’s office with specific conditions. The agreement will be tailored to individuals based on their needs and what crimes they are charged with.

Some of the possible program requirements include participants finding employment, participating in community service, abstaining from using drugs and alcohol, and participating in clinical treatment for mental health, substance abuse or other issues.

As with other incarceration alternatives in the county, participants who successfully complete the program will have their charges dismissed.

Some criminal cases may not be considered for the program, including offenses committed using a firearm or involving bodily harm, distribution of drugs or sexual conduct.

When announcing earlier this month that an enhanced diversion program was on the way, District Attorney Suzanne Valdez said the new program would operate alongside her office’s standard diversion program. Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden, who will oversee the program, told the Journal-World Tuesday that one of the main differences between the two diversion programs was that the enhanced version would provide more structure and oversight for participants, while the standard version mostly leaves participants to their own devices.

By providing more oversight, the enhanced version may give individuals who are likely to fail the standard version a better opportunity to stay on track and have their charges dismissed, thus giving more people the opportunity to avoid convictions, he said.

“If someone that initially would not have an opportunity at diversion, they would be looking at probation and a conviction on their record,” Seiden said. “Here, you still have an opportunity as a participant of this program to complete a diversion, avoid that conviction, and if there are services you need, you can get linked up with those. So it expands the people we would be willing to grant diversion to.”

During the regular meeting, the commissioners are not slated to consider any new business. However, several items are listed in the meeting’s consent agenda related to the Public Works Department soliciting bids for several products, including de-icing salt for winter road service, herbicides for noxious weed control and rock aggregates for county road maintenance.

The consent agenda allows the commission to consider and approve several items in one motion unless a commissioner or member of the public asks to pull an item for discussion.

The County Commission will convene at 4 p.m. for its work session and at 5:30 p.m. for its regular business meeting. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 961 8222 8379.

Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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