Q&A: Community Diversion Program & Restorative Community Pathways

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As part of the 2021–22 proposed budget, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has proposed creating two new programs aimed at creating community-based alternatives for certain adult and juvenile cases.

We’ve prepared a Q&A on each program, below:

Community Based Diversion Program

Are individuals who commit violent crimes eligible for this program?

No — absolutely not. This program is not available for people who commit violent crimes, crimes against persons, domestic violence, sexual assault, gun crimes or other weapons offenses. Also this program is not available for people with a repeated felony history, or where there are concerning fact patterns, or concerning misdemeanor history. Law enforcement will also be given a chance to weigh in if there are specific concerns we are unaware of.

What happened to “You do the crime you do the time?” This sounds like a “free pass.”

It’s important to hold offenders accountable for their criminal actions — and this program will still do that. The community-based programs will still require accountability and if the offender fails to engage in the programs or reoffends during the process, the original criminal charges can still be filed in court. It is also important to recognize that our current system for our first- time offenders doesn’t involve a lot of “doing time.” Instead, charges are filed, lawyers are assigned, and these cases are set for multiple court hearings in an overburdened system that frequently ends in long delays, costly warrants, huge expenses and credit for time already served. Finally, this program is much better for victims of property crimes, who can get their out of pocket expenses paid up front through restitution rather than waiting months or years (if at all) through the traditional system. We believe this program will show significantly better outcomes for offenders and victims — and at the same time it risks very little because we reserve the right to file through the traditional court system if the program is not completed.

We will collect and analyze data about the program and make adjustments as needed.

Who will review cases?

An experienced, senior-level prosecutor will screen and divert eligible individuals facing their first low-level property/drug felony to a community-based, culturally competent program to address the harm caused by their crime in lieu of felony prosecution.

What felonies are eligible?

Only first-time felony offenders are eligible, and the crime types include some property crimes and some drug offenses — our lowest level offenses. All repeat offenders and other crime types are ineligible (no crimes against persons, no violent crimes, no domestic violence, no sexual assaults, no weapon offenses). Also any cases with concerning facts or offenders with concerning misdemeanor history will be excluded. Law enforcement will be given a chance to weigh in on crimes or offenders as well. Eligibility standards and programming details will be developed in collaboration with our community, County and criminal justice partners.

What if someone does not complete the community-based program? Do they get a free pass?

No. The prosecutor reserves the right to file the original criminal charge within the statute of limitations.

Where is the $2.7 million for the diversion program coming from?

The King County Executive’s budget. The program is expected to be fully funded through savings in public defense, prosecutors, and the courts.

Does this mean you’ll stop enforcing drug laws?

No. Felony drug crimes are still prosecuted in accordance with our public filing and disposition standards. The goal of this program is to keep individuals facing a first-time felony charge from falling into a cycle of criminal justice system-involvement, and from our experience we know that if an individual can avoid a first time felony they are far less likely to end up with an additional felony later on. Further, we know from other programs we’ve studied that community-based partnerships will be a key in facilitating that.

Will you keep statistics on how the program is working?

Absolutely. And those will be made public. The goal is a data-driven program with a proven track record for success. We will be monitoring the numbers very closely to ensure the program is working as planned and reducing new crimes in the community.

What about people with a record of repeated offenses?

We prosecute repeat offenders now and we will continue to prosecute repeat offenders. Repeat offenders are not eligible for this program — and you only get one opportunity to complete this program. This program is meant to keep people from becoming repeat offenders, and we’ve seen examples of this working in other areas like our Juvenile Division, Drug Courts, and Community Courts.

Where will cases go?

Community-based diversion alternatives will be developed, including a Victim Restoration fund for harmed parties. Design will occur through mid-2021, followed by development of community-based alternatives. The program will be implemented no later than the beginning of 2022.

Are you only looking at only defendants of color?

People of color, especially young people of color, are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system after a first felony — and while racial equity is a driving force behind this proposal, this program is not limited to people of color. Anyone who gets into the criminal justice system has the potential to see negative impacts on their job, housing and educational opportunities. Keeping people from becoming repeat offenders — which is what this program aims to do — is in the best interest of everyone in King County. We believe that when first-time offenders facing charges for non-violent crimes are given the opportunity to better themselves through community-based programs, we will see better outcomes from the community and those individuals — both in the long-term and the short-term.

What are some examples of this idea in other areas?

In Manitoba, Canada, law enforcement saw success with a similar program that is more specifically targeted to domestic violence. There also was a multi-state evaluation of prosecutor-led diversion funded by the National Institute of Justice. According to the study that reviewed programs in Wisconsin, Illinois and Vermont: “Although it bears noting that we evaluated program impacts in a limited number of sites, meaning that our findings may not be generalizable to other sites and programs that we did not study, our research yielded positive results. Across five programs in three sites, diversion participants benefited from a reduced likelihood of conviction and incarceration; and in four of the five programs, pretrial diversion participation led to reduced re-arrest rates. In addition, in all four programs where a cost evaluation was conducted, diversion cases involved a lesser resource investment than similar comparison cases.”

Why is this program happening?

Statistics show that a first felony conviction is a tipping point that often results in individuals committing additional felonies. This is true across ages, races and genders. This effort is meant to reduce the likelihood of repeat crimes while also improving the outcomes of an individual’s first interaction with the Superior Court system. We know a first non-violent felony can impact jobs, licensing restrictions, housing restrictions, education and scholarship opportunities. The key is to intervene to repair harm for victims and correct an individual’s behavior initially with the best possible outcome — for the community and the individual.

What savings do you anticipate from this program?

In addition to fewer repeat offenders, we will immediately see savings in reduced use of court services, legal services, jail services, pre-trial (CCAP) services, as well as reduced issuance of warrants. There will be reduced use of police resources in addressing court obligations and following up on bench warrants as well.

What are some of the benefits?

The victim support fund is designed to reimburse victims for some of their immediate financial losses. Lowest-level offenders will be given a one-time chance to avoid a first conviction, while being held accountable in days, not years. Hundreds of costly warrants will be eliminated annually. Community-based, culturally competent partners will be

engaged to help break the cycle of recidivism. Racial disproportionality will be diminished. All of this can be done for less than the cost of the current overburdened system.

Restorative Community Pathways (RCP)

1. Immediately meet the individualized needs of both the harmed party and the youth.

2. Foster long-lasting relationships and supports for both the harmed party and the youth.

3. Provide the harmed party with a voice in their healing process, and allow young people to have an opportunity to engage in meaningful accountability for the harm they’ve caused without being pushed into the juvenile legal system.

RCP also creates a restoration fund that seeks to provide restitution in situations where it would not otherwise be feasible or available.

What is the goal of RCP?

The goal of RCP is to divest from our current juvenile legal system that is racially disproportionate (BIPOC youth represent 72% of the youth prosecuted and 86% of the youth incarcerated, while being only 48% of the population) and invest in a community-driven support system that maintains accountability while also addressing racial equity and care for our young people, their families, the harmed parties, and our community.

Through a community-led accountability and restoration process, a consortium comprised of skilled community navigators and community-based supports will work together to prevent future harm and criminal legal system involvement.

Does this address adult felony crimes?

The RCP is specifically designed for juvenile cases and handles those exclusively.

What is new about RCP compared to work that is already happening in King County?

King County has been engaged in restorative justice and diversion programs — particularly for youth — for many years. Community organizations such as Choose 180, Creative Justice, and others have been instrumental in providing alternatives to the juvenile legal system, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office strives for a juvenile justice system that sets a national standard for innovative and progressive approaches to handling juvenile cases while being focused accountability. Because of that effort, the number of juvenile case filings dropped from 5,566 in the year 2000 to 1,033 in 2019.

RCP is both an expansion and formalization of already existing diversion work — namely restorative justice alternatives to traditional prosecution. It also creates new resources that have never existed previously. RCP will unite already existing diversion programs under a partnership between the PAO and community organizations, and increase capacity for more youth participants. New work under RCP includes an increased focus on resources specifically for victims (e.g. a restoration fund and harmed party navigators) as well as long-term supports for youth who commit crimes.

What is the anticipated impact of RCP?

Recent legislation makes the vast majority (85–90%) of youth prosecuted in the juvenile legal system eligible for community diversion. See RCW 13.40.70(5)(8).

In 2021, RCP and the PAO will work to provide immediate and comprehensive care, support and restitution to youth, families, and harmed parties for:

  1. 400 cases (40% of cases prosecuted in the juvenile legal system), and;
  2. 215 court diversion referrals (55% of current court diversions). Court diversions are defined as ‘criminal history’ under RCW 13.40.020 (8)(b).

In 2022–23, we expect 700–800 cases (or 70–80% of cases prosecuted in the juvenile legal system) could be referred to RCP.

What is restorative justice?

“Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational. It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and — if they are interested — facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons.” — restorativejustice.org

While the traditional restorative justice model involves facilitated conversations between harmed parties, offenders, and the community, restorative principles can be applied in a variety of contexts.

What community organizations will be involved in RCP?

Creative Justice, Choose 180, Collective Justice, Community Passageways, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO), and the King County Department of Public Defense are jointly proposing the creation of RCP.

Approximately six organizations will form the RCP consortium; these organizations will be identified in the coming weeks and months. These organizations will have expertise in supporting Black, Brown, Latinx, LGBTQ+, immigrant, and refugee youth and families and lifting up their power. However, the RCP is not limited to any one group — we want the aspects of restorative justice to be available to all eligible youth.

This consortium, including the organization working with the harmed party, will meet biweekly to discuss how to best help young people and their families. The community model allows for community capacity building as RCP grows to its full potential. To ensure robust and immediate community care, community navigators must be resourced to coordinate with the PAO, community partners, service providers, youth/families, and the harmed party to provide resources and supports quickly and effectively.

Is RCP just giving young people who commit crimes a pass?

No. The RCP model offers young people a chance to take a community-driven path to accountability instead of facing traditional prosecution. In doing so, RCP seeks to reduce the number of youth who commit repeat offenses and end up continuously involved in the criminal legal system.

Through an increased focus on the harmed party and restitution, RCP also offers more support for victims than ever before. And according to the Alliance for Safety and Justice’s 2016, “Crime Survivors Speak” report, seven in 10 victims prefer that prosecutors focus on solving neighborhood problems and stopping repeat crimes through rehabilitation. That is the focus of the RCP.

How, specifically, will RCP work?

1–2 days

Law enforcement refers to PAO, which assesses RCP diversion eligibility based on pre-determined standards. If eligible for RCP, PAO refers to a community navigator and harmed party navigator.

2–4 days

Community navigator reviews referral and contacts family. Harmed party navigator contacts harmed party to identify needs including restitution.

8–11 days

Community navigator meets with youth and family/supports, assesses needs and jointly develops action plan. Harmed party navigator assesses restitution claim, identifies support and desire for restorative process.

14–45 days

Community navigator links youth and family with appropriate resources, services and supports identified in the action plan. Once action plan is signed, most cases are no longer eligible for prosecution. Harmed party navigator refers for services and disburses appropriate restitution, applying an equity lens. If restorative dialogue is desired by both parties, restorative facilitators begin dialogue process with each party.

6 months & beyond

Community navigator and additional community supports assist youth in completing action plan; PAO receives information regarding success of action plan.

How much taxpayer money is expected to go to victims?

In the first year, we estimate that there would be about 350–400 victims, primarily victims of assaults. We believe that an initial restitution fund in the realm of $90,000 will be sufficient to ensure that restitution resources are provided to those with the greatest need. In addition, the Crime Victim Benefits Fund is available for all medical and counseling costs. That fund is currently very inaccessible for many harmed parties and so the harmed party victim advocate would help fill out forms and provide direct basic needs support.

Over the next two years, the RCP is expected to be funded at $6.2 million. But only part of that is the victims support funding. The majority of that budget goes to the community-based organizations and overall program costs.

Ultimately, the budget is approved by the nine members of the King County Council.

Why is taxpayer money being used for this when there is a budget shortfall?

By creating RCP, we look to divest from our current juvenile legal system that is costly and often ineffective. Instead, we want to invest in a community-driven support system that leads with racial equity and care for our young people, their families, victims of crime, and our community. We believe this will have the best long-term result — both for those involved in the juvenile justice system, for crime victims, and the taxpayers who fund the justice system.

RCP aims to divert approximately 400 cases (approximately 285 misdemeanors and 115 first time diversion-eligible felony charges) currently handled through juvenile court. In doing so, RCP will help keep youth out of further criminal legal involvement — which is incredibly costly to taxpayers. At a time where community is asking for transformative change from the criminal justice system, RCP offers an important step towards that goal. We know that the current juvenile justice system is racially disproportionate: BIPOC account for 48% of King County’s juvenile population, yet represent 72% of youth prosecuted and 86% of youth incarcerated.

RCP also has overwhelming support among juvenile justice stakeholders — many of whom helped design the proposal — and we expect to monitor program results to share with the public.

The program will eventually be fully funded through staff savings in King County Superior Court, Department of Public Defense, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Why are taxpayers paying restitution on crimes rather than offenders?

It is estimated that 40% of American families cannot come up with $400 in an emergency, and the loss of a cell phone, or a broken window may be too much for a lot of people to cover themselves without other sacrifices.

The restoration (restitution) fund aims to repair harm that is currently going unaddressed in cases where the youth who committed the offense does not have the means to do so (e.g. replacing a stolen cellphone). Not repairing the harm can have collateral consequences with ripple effects for the harmed party and broader community.

Why do you believe the restitution fund will work?

Because the harms that the fund will repair are currently going unaddressed. In the example of a stolen cellphone that would not otherwise be replaced — if a person in need receives a replacement phone (which is a critical communication line to family, and can often be a young person’s only means of accessing the internet for school, work, etc.) the fund is more successful than taking no action. Every year, there are hundreds of people in need in King County who are victimized and never given restitution. This program does not make up for all of those, and we’re not talking about six- or five- or even three-figure restitution amounts here. The estimated $90,000 is expected to serve between 350–400 victims across the county — an average of about $240 per victim.

These public funds will be accounted for, and each case will be reviewed individually. We expect to have many success stories that will save long-term costs. We expect to report details of the program to the public, the County Council that approved the program’s budget, and the County Executive.

What happens if a youth doesn’t complete the restorative justice alternative? Do they get a pass?

Youth are not getting a pass when there is evidence they have committed a crime, even a non-violent crime. If the restorative justice alternatives are not utilized or completed, there is the option to continue through the traditional juvenile justice system.

How will there be public accountability for the victim restoration fund and restorative justice programs?

The community groups and the King County departments involved will track program results. Programs using public funds also are subject to public disclosure requests, so anyone in the public can see the effectiveness of the restorative justice efforts.

Written by

A blog from King County’s elected Prosecutor, Dan Satterberg.

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