Pre-trial diversion getting positive results in Chatham County - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Pre-trial diversion getting positive results in Chatham County

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)
CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

Chatham County's prosecuting attorneys have a lot on their plates at any given time. It's not uncommon for the Chatham District Attorney's Office to have upwards of 6,000 cases working through state court.

Not all of those are serious felony cases. So, to free up some of the workload for the less-severe offenses, the DA's Office came up with the pre-trial diversion program. 

"It allows these guys, who committed a crime, made a mistake...they're youthful, they're non-violent first time offenders...it gives them a chance to do the community service," said District Attorney Meg Heap, Chatham County. 

District Attorney Meg Heap says the pre-trial diversion program has allowed non-violent, first-time offenders to give nearly 20,000 hours of community service over the past two years, in addition to paying fines collected by the county, and restitution in some cases. It's all for the opportunity to have a clean slate.

"You made a mistake, you committed a crime, and now you're giving back into the community and you're giving your service and your time, which benefits programs that are here to help people," Heap said. 

The pre-trial diversion program only works with non-profits around our area, like the Humane Society for Greater Savannah.

"And they definitely make a contribution here. They definitely save us the time of...again, so staff can focus on some of the higher-level tasks that need to be done," said Michelle Thevenin, Executive Director, Human Society for Greater Savannah. 

Thevenin says instead of the fluffier jobs around the kennel, their court appointed volunteers get down and dirty.

"For us, they are doing laundry, they're washing kennels. There's a lot of cleaning that they're doing...washing dishes. So, it's not the fun stuff. 
It really is kind of the down and dirty, hard physical work," she said. 

"What we've done here is have a program that they can complete within 60 to 90 days. If they successfully complete the program, they'll get counseling for that. They'll understand what a detriment it is to their future," said program developer Andre Pretorius, Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney.

To date, around 97 percent of the program's participants have not repeated any criminal activity.

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