2007-09-17

Let them clean up downtown

Many of the folks arrested for things like underage possession of alcohol and public urination are getting the chance to help clean up downtown while keeping their criminal records clean. I attended a forum on Sunday with Judge Kay Giese of the Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court, and she shared some information about the pretrial diversion program used by the Solicitor General's office. She explained that there is a community service component in this program through which some defendants are allowed to avoid prosecution if they successfully complete it. Some are asked to work with the Solid Waste Department to pick up trash downtown, and some are asked to work with the Athens Downtown Development Authority to hose down the parking deck or sidewalks.

She also said that those defendants who are asked to write essays often benefit from their reflection and discovery in the process -- which is interesting because I have always been skeptical about a punishment normally used for classroom peccadillos to allow someone to get out of criminal charges. The essays supposedly help some college students realize the importance of getting their book on instead of boozing up.

Judge Geise also reported that about 10% do not complete the pretrial diversion. I did not know the number was so high, and I have been mystified at those who are too busy to return a phone call or come to town and figure out how to take advantage of the rare opportunity to avoid prosecution by going to an alcohol class and doing a little community service.

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