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Misdemeanor Diversion Program helps defendants clear record, saves money

POSTED January 10, 2012 11:14 p.m.

In November 2010, the Stanislaus District Attorney’s Office entered into a contract with Pacific Educational Services, Inc. to operate the Misdemeanor Diversion Program.

Just over a year later, District Attorney Birgit Fladager has deemed the program beneficial for defendants, her office and taxpayers.

The program serves as a win-win situation for defendants and the DA’s office. If a defendant has no past criminal history and they commit a minor misdemeanor crime, they could attend a one-day, six-hour education course. In return their record is wiped clean.

Sample misdemeanors include vandalism, petty theft, battery, minor in possession of alcohol, shoplifting and drunk in public.

For the DA’s office and courts it frees up costly space in the county criminal justice system.

“It really frees up court time and we believe it saves money because we don’t have to file a complaint, there are no judges, no attorney and no court involvement. The defendant doesn’t have to pay court costs or attorney fees,” said Fladager.

Pacific Educational Services operates the courses and offers a variety of options for defendants based on their misdemeanor crime. There are five programs: theft, anger management, life skills for errors in judgment, driving violations and drug/ alcohol abuse.

“The courses aren’t counseling but more like group sessions which people talk about their particular offense. We try very hard to have them confront their issue and change their thinking about their actions and decisions,” said Pacific Services President Walter Stockman. “Changing of thought patterns is vital to a successful criminal justice system.”

Pacific Educational Services has operated its misdemeanor diversion program for 30 years and in 10 California counties.

“I think this is great front-end, first-time, effective tool to get a person’s attention and a way for them to take notice of what they have done,” said Fladager. “Misdemeanor crimes can really have an effect on employment opportunities and this gives them a chance to not have it on their record.”

According to Stockman, 76 percent of defendants offered the courses enrolled and 86 percent of those who enrolled completed the courses. The recidivism rate is currently running at about four percent for the Stanislaus County program, which he said is lower than most other counties.

In the first year, Pacific Educational Services collected more than $2,400 in restitution for victims and $11,280 in administrative fees for the DA’s office and it has held 49 one-day classes.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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