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Program Offers Second Chance For First Time Offenders

SANTA BARBARA — A new program out of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is giving low-level offenders a second chance at a clean record. In just two months, the Misdemeanor Diversion Program has taken 200 people with first-time misdemeanors out of the criminal justice system and offered them an opportunity to stay out. Each year the District Attorney’s Office sees 13,000 to 15,000 misdemeanor cases and they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecute. The new program will reduce that case load by 10 to 15 percent in the county by offering courses instead of court. “They’re allowed to attend a program that they pay for, so this is something that is not on the tax payers dime,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss. The program costs $250 per course and they range from six to 12 hours each. But only some cases qualify. “Offenses like disturbing the peace, public intoxication, suspended license. So only low level offenders will be allowed to enter the program,” said Auchincloss. Once it is complete, the defendant will receive a dismissal of the charges meaning it won’t go on their record and the chance of the repeating the crime drops. The District Attorney’s Office in Orange County saw a recidivism rate dip from 21 percent to 7 percent in cases where offenders chose the program over court. But if the defendant doesn’t complete the course, the case gets filed in court. The program will save the county money and free up resources so the deputy district attorneys can focus on high priority cases. Other departments including the courts will see fewer people with misdemeanor charges. “Public defenders will enjoy a reduction in case loads, probation will enjoy an increase in resources because these cases will not be referred to probation and finally we’ll have fewer cases sent out to the county jail,” said Auchincloss. There is a fee wavier if the defendant can show they cannot pay the $250 charge. They will still be able to participate in the program and if it is completed, their record will stay misdemeanor free.

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