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Jeffco DA Danny Carr Announces Diversion Program for First-Time Felony Offenders

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Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr — in partnership with Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice — has announced a diversion program that allows young people arrested for first-time, low-level felonies, to participate in short-term programs in lieu of prosecution. 

Reset Jefferson County is modeled after a successful program in New York by the Center for Court Innovation and will allow participants to avoid a criminal record and the court process by completing community-based program requirements.

The program holds people accountable for their actions, strengthens public trust in the justice system, and creates opportunities for young, low-level offenders to move forward without the lifetime impediment of a felony conviction. 

“Too often, incarceration perpetuates a cycle of harm that leaves young individuals traumatized,” said Carr. “Reset will halt this destructive cycle by treating young, first-time offenders with dignity, providing the tools and opportunity to write a better story for themselves. Reset can repair the harm to community and individuals, while respecting participants.”

Each year in Jefferson County, more than 500 people aged 17-24 are charged with Class D felonies for low-level drug and property offenses, including unlawful possession of a controlled substance, possession of a forged instrument, fraudulent use of a credit card, or third-degree theft.

 Data shows that these cases disproportionately impact Black residents, as 75 percent of people arrested in 2019 were Black. Currently, the only options for law enforcement and prosecutors are arrest and prosecution. For first-time offenders, these options can set them up for years of struggle: in fines, fees, and court costs; in supervision by probation officers; and even jail. 

With Reset, proper screening results in no court appearance, and no jail, freeing up law enforcement for more serious offenses. There are also no financial costs for Reset participants, holding people accountable without the financial burden of court related fines and fees. If a participant fails to complete programming, their case will return to the traditional court system. 

Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is a nonprofit organization working in tandem with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office to realize Reset. Appleseed has two decades of experience in research and policy advocacy around some of Alabama’s most pressing problems. Appleseed recently studied the impact of excessive punishment and heavy court costs on vulnerable populations and also spent a year investigating diversion and drug court programs, developing recommendations to improve them in Alabama. 

“Reset works to dismantle the systemic racism pervasive in low-level felony convictions which unfairly impact Black residents by creating barriers to prosperity,” says Appleseed’s Executive Director Carla Crowder. “DA Carr is rethinking accountability and focusing on problem solving rather than punishment. Reset will disrupt the old mindset by delivering supportive services, rather than traditional justice system responses.”

Reset is made possible by a grant from the Instruments of Hope Unity Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

Reset Jefferson County is working with the Center for Court Innovation and the Bureau of Justice Administration, National Training and Technical Assistance Center to advise on curriculum. Locally, Reset will partner with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and Birmingham Police Department, where officers will receive training in this new approach.

 Victim Service Officers from the District Attorney’s Office will ensure victims’ voices are heard. The Jefferson County Public Defender’s Office will assist with program design. In addition, Reset will engage community providers for mental health and drug counseling, educational services, and art therapies. Faith leaders will also provide community input. For more information on Reset, please contact Carla Crowder at (205) 305-0735 or email address carla.crowder@alabamaappleseed.org.

For more on Reset Jefferson County, visit www.jeffcoda.org/reset.php