Letter to the Editor - Gallatin County Needs a Criminal Diversion Program

Gallatin County suffers from a glut of criminal cases that overburden our judicial system. Some of these cases are serious and merit grave consideration, both for victims and defendants. Others are lower priority and take necessary attention away from our more pressing matters. Others still, are ultimately dismissed for either lack of evidence or because they were improperly charged. The less serious cases could be handled through mediation and diversion. Yet, we currently do neither.

Criminal diversion is not new to Gallatin County and is currently engaged by misdemeanor prosecutors in both Bozeman and Belgrade; it is also employed in felony courts across the state. These programs allow a streamline for lower level offenses and first-time offenders. For example, I have had clients given a grace period for good behavior to clear their record, say, upon immediate payment of restitution for damage in a car accident. I have also diverted drug cases for first time offenders who possessed only small or personal use amounts of drugs. From my experience and the research done on this topic, diversion is an excellent means to unclog the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism. Notably, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Both Democratic candidates in the Gallatin County attorney primary call for a county diversion program to handle certain low-level offenses. This is not a surprise, coming from candidates with progressive and solutions-based ideas, like a mental health treatment court.

I support innovation in the judicial system that is supported by science and research. I support a diversion program in Gallatin County.

Published by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle - May 21, 2022

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