14th Judicial District awarded $30K grant for new adult diversion program
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The 14th Judicial District, which includes Routt County, received a $30,000 grant from the state Tuesday that will fund a new adult diversion program.
The program will provide an alternative to prosecution and incarceration for certain lower-level offenses and provide rehabilitative services that might not otherwise be available in the criminal justice system.
District Attorney Matt Karzen said that to his knowledge, the program is the first of its kind for the 14th District. A diversion program for juveniles has been in place for some time.
The program is targeted toward people whose criminal activity stems from factors like a substance use disorder or mental illness, issues that likely would not be resolved in prison, according to the district attorney.
“This is more focused on proactively getting them what they need to recover,” Karzen said.
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Alleged perpetrators of certain crimes, such as sexual assault and murder, would not be eligible for the program, according to Karzen.
Karzen said the program aligns with his goal of criminal justice reform. He aims to work toward a system that balances human decency with public safety. Rather than face criminal charges, an offender participating in the diversion program would work with a case manager to identify his or her needs, then receive appropriate treatment.
If the person makes a good-faith effort at rehabilitation, prosecutors would formally dismiss the criminal case, according to Karzen.
Studies have shown that diversion programs can reduce recidivism, better rehabilitate offenders and lead them to employment, which results in cost-saving benefits for taxpayers footing the bill of the criminal justice system. One report, published in the Center for Health and Justice, analyzed the effects of the Kings County Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison program in New York. From 1990 to 2011, there were 1,349 participants, leading to estimated cost savings of more than $92 million.
“Investing in adult diversion has a ton of potential,” Karzen said. “It can be hugely positive, I think.”
The judicial district requested a $100,000 grant from Colorado’s Adult Diversion Funding Committee, but budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic substantially reduced the amount of available funding.
“I didn’t think we were going to get anything,” Karzen said of the grant money. “It was the first unexpected good news I’ve had in a long time.”
He initially hoped to serve 80 people in the first year of the program. With the reduced funding, about 15 people could participate. The funding becomes available July 1. Officials hope to start taking applications for the program in August, according to Karzen.
He and other justice officials plan to use the first year as a trial period to determine the effectiveness of adult diversion. If successful, Karzen hopes to expand the program next year.
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