Eau Claire (WQOW) - Making sure low level offenders won't continue to climb the ranks of the criminal justice system. That's the focus of a program Eau Claire County says is working well. It began just a couple of years ago. Thursday night, an Eau Claire County committee will hear an update on it's progress.
"This is basically their one chance, their one opportunity. The hope is that these are self-correcting people. They only get one chance at doing this program," said Angie Braaten Eau Claire County Diversion Program Coordinator.
Before they risk serving hard time for serious crimes, some lower level offenders are being given a chance to navigate a newer program and start down a fresh path.
"They still pay a fee, they have to come in for a one hour education session, where they kind of learn about different negative ramifications of having criminal histories when they apply for jobs or schooling, financial aid, those types of things. Once they complete the program, then their charge gets kept off their criminal history," Braaten explained.
The idea behind the program is a simple one.
"Research told us that there's better ways of handling our first time, low risk offenders, other than pushing them further into the criminal justice system," said Braaten.
Diversion programming was first introduced in Eau Claire County in 2012, and offered to those charged with low-level misdemeanors like retail theft or disorderly conduct.
"We basically found that the repeat offender rate was twenty percent higher in those that did not receive the diversion program than those who did," Braaten said.
About 260 people participate in the program each year. The county is hoping there is less of a need for the program in the future, but so far is impressed with the success.
"We're really happy with the program and we're really happy with what the data is showing us. Kind of makes it all worthwhile what we're doing," said Braaten.
Another benefit to the program is that the work is done through Braaten's office, not the courts. That frees up time to focus on higher level offenses.