Diversion programs helps criminals and their victims

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Crime is a fact of life. Courtrooms dockets are full, and many of our jails are overcrowded. But the pre-trial diversion program in Jackson County is working to rehabilitate criminals the first time they're caught.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence spent Friday morning signing checks totaling more than $100,000 to victims of crime. The money supplied by the criminals themselves, and that's the whole point.

"What we've done is that we've been able to take people who are first time, non-violent offenders on the docket, put them into a program where we're going to punish them, where we're going to rehabilitate them. And they're going to pay the cost of their crime and become productive members of our society."

The requirements to graduate from the pre-trial diversion program are tough and not everyone makes the grade. But those who do, get rid of the one thing that could hang over their heads for the rest of their lives. Their felony record simply goes away.

One of those graduates is 29-year-old Jeffery Hanson. He said not having a record is a new lease on life.

"It means everything. I mean, I have a wife and a kid and a good job. I've been working at the same place, doing the same thing now for about eight years, so it means everything."

Program Director Mark Spicer said 296 people are currently working towards that same chance at redemption. He's proud of the participants, although he knows some may fall through the cracks.

"I've seen probably ten people over the last six years come back into the system that came through me at one point or another," Spicer said.  "There is a few, but it's a pretty good success rate."

Other requirements of the program include the offender receiving a high school diploma, getting a job, remaining drug free, and performing community service.  Participants are monitored on a monthly basis. So far, dozens have graduated over the last few years.

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