Saturday, August 25, 2012

Alternative Prosecution Program

It's Time for an Alternative Prosecution Program that Better Benefits The Community and Crime Victims.

First-time non-violent offenders could earn a second chance to make good.
By Mike Nerheim, Candidate for Lake County State's Attorney

It's time for Lake County to find a smarter way to handle non-violent first offenders. As State's Attorney, one of the sweeping changes I will bring to the office will reduce the financial burden to taxpayers and the clogging up of the criminal justice system that results when we throw everyone in jail. I will put more focus on first-time offenders earning a second chance to "make good" with an alternative prosecution program that better benefits the community as a whole. 

My program is modeled on The Second Chance Program that has been in place for nearly 17 years in Kane County, has helped thousands of people avoid the stigma of being labeled a convicted criminal, and has generated nearly $250,000 in program fee revenue, returned to victims more than 2.2 million dollars in mandatory restitution payments, and saved hundreds of thousands in additional tax doll ars by keeping these individuals out of jail.

It's time for Lake County to take action and reap the positive benefits of such a diversion program for first-time non-violent offenses, while protecting and respecting the rights of victims by mandating community service and monetary compensation.  

My approach to this program will also include specific requirements for ensuring that the rights of victims are fully served and include timely meetings with victims, fully explaining their rights, the office assigning victim-witness coordinators, and ensuring that the victims are in agreement that justice will be better served through such an alternative punishment.

My Alternative Prosecution Program gives first-time, non-violent offenders the opportunity to keep a conviction from being permanently entered on their record. In order to be accepted into the program, the defendant must take full responsibility for the crime charged. There will be a selection process which will include feedback from the arresting agency as well as the victim. If accepted, defendants will complete treatment, make mandatory restitution, perform community service, and pay program fees and fines. If a defendant successfully completes the program, charges will be dismissed. Gang members and those charged with crimes against the disabled, elderly, or involving weapons are not eligible.

It is my hope that this will allow those first-time offenders to pay their debt to society without the anchor of a criminal conviction weighing them down for the remainder of their lives. This will also help divert some of these cases away from our judicial system so we can focus on more serious and violent offenders that are harming our community.

If the defendant fails to successfully complete the program or violates the law again, the defendant is terminated from the program and the case is returned to court for prosecution. In Kane County, the success rate is 78%. This is not a get out of jail free card, this is a program that serves the public good and one that is long overdue in coming to Lake County. Criminals make a choice to commit crimes, and this program can offer certain first-time non-violent offenders an opportunity to choose to earn a second chance to pay their debt to society and become productive members.

"Diversion programs are a great way to simultaneously hold a first time, non-violent offender accountable and give him or her an opportunity to avoid a permanent felony conviction on their record," said Kane County States's Attorney Joe McMahon in learning about Nerheim's version of the program. "It takes courage for a prosecutor to create and support this type of program, but it is the fair and just thing to do in the appropriate case.  I applaud Mr. Nerheim for the leadership he is showing in offering this type of program to the people of Lake County."

Sheriff Mark Curran likes the idea, too. "We incarcerate more than any other nation. I fully support the diversion proposal, as well as the candidacy of Mike Nerheim for Lake County State's Attorney," said Curran.

The success of such a program relies on support from the criminal justice system, law enforcement and the community. "Overcrowding in jails, an overburdened court system and limited discretion by police have shown a need for innovative approaches within the Criminal Justice System," Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko told me. "As a police officer I've experienced first hand the positive impact of offering individuals an opportunity to correct what may have been a one time only bad decision. The opportunity to offer of first-time qualified non-violent offenders this type of option is a win-win for the Criminal Justice System."

Mundelein Police Chief Raymond Rose also likes the program. "This program is an innovative approach to addressing first-time, non-violent adult offenders and will provide an alternative to court and a future not hindered by a criminal record if strict guidelines are followed and requirements are met like completing community service hours, obtaining a GED, counseling, and restitution," said Rose. "Lake County law enforcement favors the development of non-traditional, innovative, cost-saving methods to reduce court backlogs and allow non-violent, first-time offenders the opportunity to 'pay their debt to society' while continuing to be productive citizens--similar to the methodology employed by Teen Court and Drug Court programs." 

The Alternative Prosecution Program will punish offenders while benefiting  the taxpayers who receive financial relief by relieving overcrowding in our jail and case loads in our courtrooms.  I ask for your support. Vote for me for State's Attorney, so that we bring justice and smart solutions like this program to the advantage of all citizens of our great county.

1 comment:

  1. This is a terrific idea. Mike is going to be a great State's Attorney and bring a new image to the office.