DeKalb County Superior Court Diversion Program Director Kaleema Thomas said those who want a chance to turn their lives around can have it, but they’ll have to work hard for it.
Thomas runs the Anti-Recidivism Court, which was created by District Attorney Robert James in 2011 as a way to give offenders ages 17-25 a second chance. Since the program’s inception, 22 participants have successfully completed the program.
“The participants have to be committed to change and willing to work on themselves throughout the process,” Thomas said. “The program is not a fit for every applicant.”
The yearlong program is intense, Thomas said, and those who participate are required to report to probation, perform community service, report to monthly compliance hearings and undergo random monitoring. Additionally, participants must pay any restitution involved with their arrest, enroll in an academic program if they have not obtained a high school diploma/GED and attend behavior modification classes.
Currently, there are 20 participants in the program. Thomas said it has grown over the years as her office has started taking on more complicated caseloads.
“The program is very vigorous—these young people are charged with pretty serious offenses—so we want to make sure that we’re breaking the cycle of being rearrested,” Thomas said.
James said that it’s important the program isn’t just a “get out of jail free card.”
“It allows them to learn from their prior missteps,” James said.
The Anti-Recidivism Court is a collaborative partnership among DeKalb County Public Defenders’ Office, DeKalb County Magistrate Court and DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office. According to national statistics, approximately two-thirds of individuals arrested will be re-arrested within three years.
“We not only provide them with life skills training but also a strict guideline to follow. Many do not complete the course. For those participants who do complete all of their requirements, they will have their cases dismissed,” James said.
Currently, Thomas said the program, is in the process of developing an alumni network for those who have already been through the program.
“When people finish the program they generally tell us how much they’ve benefited from the program. We want the people who actually graduate remaining arrest free for the rest of their lives,” Thomas said.
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