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King County group hopes to prove diversion program can be ‘far more effective’ than prison time

On Tuesday, King County Councilmembers unanimously approved a program that will employ diversionary justice for nonviolent, first-time criminal offenders.

Law enforcement, prosecutors key to juvenile justice reforms

The measure would have a nonprofit community panel decide how to hold these offenders accountable, while offering restitution for victims. Choose 180 is a local organization that will help manage this undertaking at the youth level, with Executive Director Sean Goode stopping by KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to talk about why he believes this can help reduce crime long-term.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that when offenders first start moving through the criminal justice system, they’re given a pathway to rehabilitation that ensures they don’t re-offend.

“This approach of restorative practice is far more effective than incarceration, and offering somebody community support goes farther than a criminal conviction — we know this to be true on many other levels,” Goode said.

In practice, this newly-approved program will have nonviolent, first-time offenders referred to the King County Prosecutor’s Office, which will then send that referral on to community organizations like Choose 180.

Restorative Justice offers different path for young offenders

“Then, that community-based organization will engage that young person,” Goode described. “We’ll begin to identify what led to the particular behavior, begin to assess them, treat the things that led to the contributing factors to that behavior, and then surround them with a community of support that’s going to help them honor a commitment to a new direction.”

While that process plays out, the organization will also reach out to the victim of the crime to figure out “what harm has been done,” and provide restitution if necessary.

“This restorative community pathway builds up the young person, sees them as a possibility to be developed and not a problem to be solved, while simultaneously making sure that the harmed party is made whole,” Goode added.

Funding for this program will total $6 million, and “will provide comprehensive, community-based services to 800 young people in lieu of filing criminal charges,” according to a statement from King County outlining its final budget. Of that funding, $1.5 million will be set aside “to build capacity at community-based organizations involved in work related to the program.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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