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New program would send criminals to class instead of jail cells

Posted at 3:31 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-29 20:37:41-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego District Attorney's Office announced a new program Thursday that would send low-level offenders to the classroom instead of a jail cell.

The Community Justice Initiative requires 12 hours of cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as four hours of community service. The participant then has their case dropped and their record sealed. They wouldn't have to report an arrest on any future job application.

"Some people deserve second chances," DA Summer Stephan said.

The program started in the South Bay in April 2018, expanded to the East County in January 2019, then North County in May. It's funded in part by the county, grants, and $120 from each criminal.

"That amount is less than any fine they would have gotten on any case," Stephan said.

So far the program has seen 586 participants. 296 of them completed the program.

Director of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adult Justice Programs and Social Worker Laura Soto spoke of one of her patients who completed the program, "she [Amanda] began to spend more time with her son, she got a diploma and she got an office job, and then she started cosmetology school."

Amanda was arrested for stealing. Through the program she shifted her mindset away from entitlement.

"Amanda began to think about the consequences, and things to be grateful for and that made her happy," Soto said.

"The most common offenses in the program are in fact shoplifting, non DUI traffic violations or vandalism,." Stephan said only non-violent and non-sexual offenders qualify.

"Misdemeanor convictions can have damaging affects that last a lifetime," she added. Stephan said criminals will continue turning to a life of crime if they can't find a way out.

10News asked Stephan what she would say to critics who believe this program could incentivize criminal behavior. She said, "the people who complete the program recidivate at 2% which is so phenomenally low."

She compared it to the 16 percent who didn't complete the program and were arrested for a crime again.