A Second Chance – A Welcome Diversion

Recently, a small group of nine Kansas City residents got together on a virtual meeting with Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker, Rev. John Miles of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church and representatives of Swope Health.

The occasion was a celebration, marking the first graduating class to successfully complete a new counseling program. As a result of completing the program, criminal charges pending against these nine residents were dropped.

The program is called NewStart2020. It is an idea launched in November by the Jackson County Prosecutor to help offenders avoid criminal charges. In this new diversion program, up to 60 non-violent felony offenders are asked to complete 20 hours of counseling, with additional support. If they complete the program, their non-violent felony charges (such as drug possession) are dropped.

The nine participants all received certificates of completion of the program’s counseling services, provided by Swope Health and modeled on Swope Health’s Imani House drug treatment programs.

Program leaders congratulated the participants as Prosecuting Attorney Baker pronounced the charges would not appear on their records. “I’m proud of you,” she said.

“Go forward, go forward, go forward,” said Swope Health President and CEO Jeron Ravin.

“I am grateful for program, and grateful for all of you who worked so hard,” said Rev. John Miles. “Now that you’ve got a new start, move forward in a positive way.”

In the program, Swope Health delivers the services at the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church community center, which also provides case management, food and other support.

This program is similar to drug diversion, which is run through the Jackson County Drug Court. In the drug diversion process, cases are diverted after charges are filed. A judge oversees the case, and the entire process can take 12 to 18 months to complete.

The new pilot program is different in that it is a diversion before charges. Eligible participants are facing non-violent felony crimes, and will have the chance to wipe that arrest away by completing the 20-hour program. Persons charged with violent crimes, including domestic abuse or sex crimes, are not eligible.

The program leaders are now working on scheduling the next session and growing the participation, to help members of the community get a second chance.

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