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Diversion program helps defendants; community

By Melanie Ruberti

Melanie.Ruberti@lagrangenews.com

 

Some first-time offenders in Troup County are learning hard lessons by making a positive impact on their community.

The Troup County Solicitor’s Office donated dozens of items late last week to the Safe Families for Children program. The organization falls under the umbrella of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services.

Troup County Solicitor-General Markette Baker and her staff dropped off boxes piled high with diapers, children’s clothing and coats, backpacks and more.

A majority of the donations were collected by participants in the State Court’s pretrial diversion program.

The purpose of the program is to provide someone who is charged with a misdemeanor crime a second chance at keeping a ‘clean slate.’ The participant must also not have a prior record in order to be considered for the program, explained Baker.

“When we offer a pretrial diversion to someone in State Court, we want them to do something that will benefit themselves and possibly others,” she said. “When they (program participants) donate items and those items go to a group like Safe Families for Children, the defendant has done something they can feel good about.”

To be considered for the pretrial diversion program, the State Court requires participants obtain a GED or finish high school, find a job, complete community service, and/or go to classes, such as: Anger Management, Family Violence Intervention, the Teen Victim Impact Panel and more.

The court also takes into account an offender’s work and school schedule during sentencing, Baker stated. If performing community service is not feasible for a defendant, the court gives them another option.

“We allow them to donate new items with a receipt and then we pass the items along to various government or nonprofit groups,” the Solicitor-General explained. “They (defendants) get credit converted by one hour of community service to the rate of minimum wage.”

Last year, the Solicitor-General’s office donated dozens of items to the Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASA.

This year, they chose Safe Families.

The organization partners with area churches to temporarily care for children while their parents overcome crisis situations, such as medical procedures, short-term homelessness and rehabilitation to name a few.

Baker believes the collected donations make a huge difference for local organizations – and in the lives of pretrial diversion participants.

“We have seen a positive impact on participants after they give to those in need,” she said. “In the end, we want first time offenders not to re-offend and we want to make a positive difference in our community. The donated items help accomplish both. Sometimes when you help others, you end up helping yourself even more.”

If participants in the pretrial diversion program stay out of trouble and complete the requirements, the court will dismiss the case against them,” Baker said.

Some offenses, like DUI, are not be eligible for the pretrial diversion program, she added.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.