Illinois program supporting diversion programs gains popularity

There have long been debates over the efficacy of incarceration for people convicted of various types of crimes. Some believe that jail and heavy-handed sentences are the only way that a person will learn from their mistakes. However, opponents of this school of thought argue that prison and lifetime consequences are simply inappropriate in many circumstances and have raised some important questions.

For example, does it make sense for a first-time offender who has committed a non-violent crime to be lumped in with violent or habitual offenders? Shouldn’t there be alternatives to support people who have made a mistake and want to make a positive change? In response to these types of questions, a diversion program in Cook County, Illinois, started operating last year.

Diversion programs and treatment options are innovative and successful alternatives to putting a first-time, non-violent offender in prison. In too many cases, courts throw the book at someone without taking the time to explore other options. The initiative in Cook County has set the standard for helping people learn from their mistakes and focus on their futures. According to reports, none of the graduates from the program has reoffended.

The success of this program has encouraged other counties in Illinois to follow suit. Rather than putting a person in jail, and possibly ruining their chance at a positive future, courts can instead place a first-time, non-violent offender in a rehabilitative program.

Those who are enrolled in the service are required to have a job, participate in community service, continue their education, pay restitution to their victims and enter a substance abuse program, if appropriate. This new outlook on punishment gives offenders a chance at taking responsibility for their mistakes, without having it ruin their lives.

Graduates from the program also have a clean slate when they leave. With the successful completion of the program, a person’s public record will be destroyed, or expunged. An expungement means that a no one will be able to see that person’s public record and criminal misstep.

The combination of education, rehabilitation, responsibility and expungement means that a person can leave the program better off than when they entered. Instead of dwelling on past mistakes, a person can look forward to a more positive future.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, “Program lets first-time, non-violent offenders clear name,” Rummana Hussain, Sept. 12, 2012

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