The Leavenworth County Attorney’s Office has developed a program to make criminal diversions fair to everyone, no matter their economic situation. Many articles written nationally have alleged that diversions benefit only those with money and punish the poor. This belief comes from the fact that those placed on diversion must pay an application fee, court costs and any other fines and fees. That means those that can afford diversion can easily get a diversion, but those who cannot afford it will end up receiving a criminal conviction. We want to assure that is not the case in our office.
Criminal diversions work as a contract with the prosecutor’s office. As long as they follow a certain set of conditions, they avoid receiving a criminal conviction. These criminal diversions are a privilege, not a right. Not everyone is eligible for a diversion. Prosecutors make the determination if someone qualifies. Things that go into that consideration are nature of the crime and facts surrounding it, criminal history, recommendations of the victim and law enforcement and whether the applicant demonstrates a genuine sense of remorse and is prepared to acknowledge the act(s) charged and accountability for the consequences of his or her actions. Other factors to consider are the applicant’s willingness to cooperate, the impact on the community of placing the applicant on diversion, the amount of restitution owed and any mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the crime.
While on diversion, applicants have myriad of accomplishments they must achieve depending on the nature of their offense and issues they are facing in their life. Some examples of things required include gaining and maintaining employment, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health therapy, an apology to the victims and paying them back for whatever damage they caused.
Community service is something that can also be a condition, but community service can be used to deter costs. The Kansas statutes and case law give authority for people in criminal cases to pay off fines and fees with community service. The statute says that it’s $5 per hour of community service. That community service does not apply to restitution or compensation for what a victim lost due to the person’s crime. We have been working with people in the community to find more options for community service so those who cannot afford it have a possibility to still receive a diversion and keep a clean record.
What we are hoping in deterring costs with community service is more people can focus on getting their life back on track without worrying about not being able to afford the diversion program. Also, we hope people can learn a sense of work ethic they may never have had before. Finally, we hope that people get a sense of community and importance of giving back to society. We want them to not only build a respect and pride in the community, but a pride in themselves and to move away from the actions that brought them to the justice system in the first place. The point of diversion is to give people who really never have done anything that caused them to face the justice system a way to correct their errors and never see it again.
Todd Thompson is the Leavenworth County Attorney.