Bill offers a way out of jail for non-violent

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 30, 2006

People make mistakes. That is the message fourth Judicial Circuit District Attorney Michael Jackson hopes to pass on to the Alabama Legislature through the proposal of the Pretrial Diversion Program.

Prison crowding is an enormous problem in Alabama. Jackson said this program can help offenders with less serious crimes get back on their feet.

“What we are really trying to do with this is try to set up a situation where non-violent offenders are not just sitting around doing nothing,” Jackson said. “We would try to get them involved in community service programs, help them get their G.E.D. and try to find them jobs. We want to get them some positive things to do rather than have them sitting around in prison.”

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A term in prison, Jackson said, can sometimes do more harm than good for those who have committed small crimes. He said this act is a way of protecting them from falling through the cracks.

“We want to make sure first time non-violent offenders don’t get messed up,” Jackson said. “A lot of times they are just people who have made a mistake. We don’t want this to mess them up when they go out and try to get a job.”

Through the pre-trial diversionary program, district attorneys would be able to contract with any agency, person or corporation for services related to the act.

The act would apply to offenders regarding traffic offenses, other than driving under the influence, property offenses or an offense where the victim did not receive serious physical injury.

This also includes an offense where the victim was not a child under14 years of age, a law enforcement officer, a school official or a correctional officer.

To be included in the program, offenders must pose no substantial threat to the safety of the community and not be a threat to involve themselves in further criminal activity.

Those excluded from the act include trafficking, distribution of drugs or both, any offense involving the abuse of a child or elderly person, any sex offense, class C felony or offense involving serious injury to a person.

Other offenses excluded are those involving death, a person deemed by the district attorney to be a threat to the safety or well-being of the community.

Several conditions must also be satisfied for the program to be considered a success for offenders. If there is a victim in the crime, offenders must agree to a restitution amount. Fees of up to $750 for felony offenses, $500 for misdemeanor offenses or $300 for traffic offenses may be enforced. A total of $25 for each fee will be allocated to the County Circuit Clerk’s office for offenses filed in each of the affected counties of the Fourth District. Another $25 will be placed into the county’s general fund.

Several other conditions including enrollment into educational programs and refrain from use of drugs and alcohol also apply.

If the offender violates the conditions of the act, which are agreed to in writing, the district attorney may terminate them from the program.

If the act is passed, Jackson said, prison life would be reserved for those who show no desire for rehabilitation. Others would have a second chance.

‘Through this act, we can save the prison system for violent offenders and people who need to be there,” Jackson said. “We are still going to take a stand against violent offenders, we just want to give first time non-violent offenders a second chance.”