Tuesday, December 13, 2016

After a Crime, the Price of a Second Chance - The New York Times

See - After a Crime, the Price of a Second Chance - The New York Times

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Though few people have heard of diversion, the practice is increasingly being embraced as a way for the criminal justice system to save people from itself.

The Prosecutor’s Deal, the Defendant’s Dilemma

A process called pretrial diversion is intended to relieve overburdened courts and help low-risk offenders get on with their lives. You decide if it’s really that simple.

Diversion is intended to relieve overburdened courts and crowded jails, and to spare low-risk offenders from the devastating consequences of a criminal record. It mostly applies to nonviolent cases that make up the vast majority of crimes — offenses like shoplifting, drug possession and theft. There are now diversion programs in almost every state.

But an examination by The New York Times found that in many places, only people with money could afford a second chance. Though diversion was introduced as a money-saving reform, some jurisdictions quickly turned it into a source of revenue.

Robert Lavern Tucker, 56
Arrested in Topeka, Kan.
Charge Felony theft from Walmart, his employer at the time.
Disposition Could not afford to pay $430 for diversion; pleaded no contest.
Outcome Sentenced to a year's probation, Mr. Tucker was soon evicted from his public housing because of his felony record.
Prosecutors exert almost total control over diversion, deciding who deserves mercy and at what price, The Times found. The prosecutors who grant diversion often benefit directly from the fees, which vary widely from town to town and can reach $5,000 for a single offense. In a country where 27 million households make less than $25,000 a year, even $500 can be prohibitive.

Diversion, interviews and case records show, can be revoked for failure to pay, or never even offered to defendants deemed too poor to afford it. A prosecutor in Ohio said he rejected applicants if he thought they wouldn’t be able to pay restitution within a time limit — one that he imposed.

“To tell somebody that if you can pay for this, you can get your charges dismissed, but if you are poor you are going to go through the system? That’s completely unfair,” said Mark Kammerer, who runs diversion programs for the Cook County state’s attorney in Chicago, where defendants are not charged a fee.

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