Researching Public Law and Public Policy in the Public Interest

After a Crime, the Price of a Second Chance

From the New York Times:

During the tough financial times of 2011, Marcy Willis, a single mother who raised five children in Atlanta, used her credit card to rent a car for an acquaintance in exchange for cash. But the man — and the car — disappeared, she said. Four months later, when Ms. Willis finally recovered the car and returned it, she was charged with felony theft.

As a first-time offender, Ms. Willis, 52, qualified for a big break: a program called pretrial intervention, also known as diversion. If she took 12 weeks of classes, performed 24 hours of community service and stayed out of trouble, her case would be dismissed and her arrest could be expunged, leaving her record clean...

Ms. Willis, who owed $690, had a harder time. When she paid all but $240, her case was sent back to court for prosecution.

By that time, the arrest had already led to her losing her job, and then her apartment. At a homeless shelter, she was robbed. Accustomed to earning a living, she began to despair...

Diversion is intended to relieve overburdened courts and crowded jails, and to spare low-risk offenders from the devastating consequences of a criminal record. It mostly applies to nonviolent cases that make up the vast majority of crimes — offenses like shoplifting, drug possession and theft. There are now diversion programs in almost every state.

But an examination by The New York Times found that in many places, only people with money could afford a second chance. Though diversion was introduced as a money-saving reform, some jurisdictions quickly turned it into a source of revenue.

Read this article in its entirety at the New York Times