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How Columbus is Helping Nonviolent Offenders

Posted On: January 13th, 2021   |   Posted by: Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP
Prison door opening to freedom image

Committing a crime is a mistake, and some mistakes are easier to understand and forgive. In these cases, punishment alone may not be appropriate. This is especially true if the crimes are minor and related to substance abuse and poverty. It may make more sense to address these problems than put the person in jail. Incarceration could make these problems worse and harder to solve.

Recently, Columbus city attorney and prosecutor Zach Klein wrote an article in the Washington Post about the success Columbus has had with diversion programs. In the piece, he admits many things any attorney at Luftman, Heck & Associates will tell you:

  • The criminal justice system doesn’t work
  • Our prisons are overcrowded
  • Many of those convicted commit more crimes after they’re released back into society
  • Jail time should be limited to dangerous people
  • Rehabilitation should be the aim for those who can be productive in society

Identifying the Main Problem

Prosecutors have been trained, evaluated, and rewarded based on getting convictions and prison time for defendants. This is sensible when the accused is genuinely dangerous. But the vast majority of those in the criminal justice system face nonviolent charges. They may be able to get out of the system with some help. Providing that help is much more successful than jail time and far less expensive to taxpayers.

Instead, Let’s Divert People Away From Committing Crimes

In 2019, the city attorney’s office started a pretrial “diversion” program to find out and address the root causes of why people commit crimes. It’s a “diversion” program because it moves some people into rehabilitation and away from incarceration.

Thanks to the help of retail stores, a program focuses on repeat shoplifters targeting big-box stores. They usually steal things that can be sold for cash, and prosecutors wanted to know why. After understanding the reasons, a plan is created to get the person help instead of jail time.

Here are some of the ways different individuals were helped:

  • If the person was hungry, they were connected to a food pantry and required to go there
  • If there were education and work problems, they might get access to a GED prep course and an introduction to a trade union
  • Those eligible for government benefits got help to navigate the application process
  • A person stealing clothes for their children was connected with an employer who was hiring
  • A homeless parent of three charged with petty theft was found housing

After a defendant completes the program, court records are sealed, making it easier to find future jobs and housing.

Does the Program Work?

Klein claims in 13 months, only six of 77 participants reoffended. His office will expand this approach to those accused of other kinds of nonviolent misdemeanors, including drug charges, solicitation, and criminal trespass.

Other changes include:

  • Ending prosecution for misdemeanor marijuana possession
  • Promoting issuance of citations, not arrests, for most nonviolent offenses
  • Eliminating cash bail for nonviolent misdemeanors

This Allows for More Resources for Violent Crimes

This approach is not only getting high marks from defendants and their attorneys but judges and the police too. Since most program participants stay out of the criminal justice system, its limited resources can be better spent on those posing more severe threats to society.

We benefit when the root causes of why nonviolent offenders commit these crimes over and over are addressed. If we don’t, our broken criminal justice system continues to chew people up and spit them out:

  • People repeat their crimes
  • They often end up with felony convictions
  • Their criminal record blocks stable employment and access to quality housing for them and their children
  • As a result, many go back to crime

Klein seems to understand that the current system tears families apart and destroys neighborhoods, costing taxpayers billions. The criminal justice system prevents people from getting jobs, housing, and providing for their families. This makes reoffending that much more likely.

Call a Columbus Defense Lawyer To Enter a Diversion Program

At Luftman, Heck & Associates, part of our job as defense lawyers is to tell our clients’ stories. Thanks to diversion programs like this, people in the system can be viewed as human beings facing real struggles. This alone results in far less harm than the more traditional “lock them up” approach. This isn’t because prosecutors are nicer or more empathetic. It’s because we now see that, for most defendants, those traditional approaches don’t work.

If you or a loved one face charges in Columbus, you might qualify for a pretrial diversion program. Contact us to discuss your background and the facts of your arrest. In Columbus, many options may be available to you. You may be able to avoid a damaging criminal record and put this behind you.

Call us at Luftman, Heck & Associates. We will fight for the best outcome for you and your family, supporting you every step of the way. Contact us 24/7 at (614) 500-3836 or online to set up a free consultation.

I can FINALLY breathe easy now. I want to thank Mr. Bowen and all the attorneys that helped me with this case.

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