Many County departments successfully work to reduce recurring crime in San Luis Obispo County, but one innovative program strategically helps first-time misdemeanor offenders avoid the criminal justice system entirely.
In 2015, the District Attorney’s Office referred 880 offenders to the program, 72 percent of which enrolled in the program. Of those who enrolled in the program, 70 percent completed the program and offenders paid back more than $7,400 to the victims of their crime.
The District Attorney’s Office started its Misdemeanor Diversion Program in April 2015 to reduce crime in San Luis Obispo County while also allowing public protection agencies to dedicate more time to the investigation and prosecution of more serious crimes.
Through this program, low-level, first-time criminal offenders are given the opportunity to stay out of the criminal court system in exchange for completing an educational program, paying program fees, and paying for any damage or loss suffered by the victim of their crime. In 2015, the District Attorney’s Office referred 880 offenders to the program, 80 percent of which enrolled in the program. Of those who enrolled in the program, 70 percent completed the program and offenders paid back more than $7,400 to the victims of their crime.
“Offenders diverted from the criminal system through this program are less likely to offend in the future,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Sheryl Wolcott. “Having observed some of the classes, I see much more value in an offender learning the skills discussed there, rather than sitting in court for a day, then walking out with a fine and a conviction.”
While it’s too early to have results on the rate of returning to criminal activity, the District Attorney’s Office is confident that this program will make a difference in our community.
Because the offenders pay for the program, it costs the community nothing to run the program. The educational classes are facilitated by Pacific Educational Services (PES), third-party contractor that has provided criminal justice programs for more than 30 years in an effort to improve public safety.
PES has a proven track record of reducing recurring crime with its Misdemeanor Diversion Program classes and motivating the offenders to enroll is a key to the program’s success.
In October 2015, PES was able to enroll 80 percent of County-referred offenders into the program, which is the highest enrollment percentage the company has ever seen before, according to an e-mail from PES President Walter Stockman.
“For a pre-file program, this is extraordinary and bears notice. The highest enrollment percentage we have ever seen before for a pre-file program was 76 percent,” Stockman said. “Because these programs are so multi-faceted, this high enrollment number could not have happened without law enforcement providing good contact information on the offender, the [District Attorney’s team] processing this information, and our team at PES making good and timely contact with the offenders, getting them enrolled.”
The County expects the program to divert approximately 10 percent of misdemeanor cases away from the court system annually.