H-SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Jan 9, 2013 8:30 PM by Nikki Ibarra

New program offered in Santa Barbara County for low-level offenders

A new program aimed at allowing some low-level offenders the option of attending a program, instead of being charged with a crime, is sweeping the state.

Santa Barbara is one 12 counties that now offers what's called a Misdemeanor Diversion Program.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office began operating the program in November.

The goal is to preserve already limited resources so the DA's office, courts and jails can focus on the most serious crimes.

"We do not have the resources to punish these low level offenders the way we once did," said Gordon Auchincloss, chief deputy district attorney for Santa Barbara County.

The DA's office has historically been one of the busiest offices in the state. "These are troubling times in terms of budget issues and we are experiencing diminishing resources like any other county agency," added Auchincloss.

Auchincloss said the program will help reduce the number of cases the DA's office prosecutes by 10 to 15 percent.

"These are the first-time offenders who will really be impacted by a mark on their record so they'll benefit considerably by perhaps having the incentive to keep their nose clean and to avoid trouble in the future," said Auchincloss.

First-time offenders who have committed very minor crimes, such as public intoxication or driving with a suspended license, could qualify for the program. "The programs are designed to address the criminal issue that is related to the charges so we have programs for alcohol and drug offenses. We have programs for vehicle offenses, such as suspended driving offenses. We get a lot of those," said Auchincloss.

The program costs $250, on top of any restitution owed to a victim. "This doesn't cost tax payer dollars. It doesn't cost the government money. It's paid for by the offenders themselves," added Auchincloss.

The offenders have 90 days to complete the program. If offenders fail to finish, they will be charged with a crime.

The DA's office will look at each offenders record to determine if that person qualifies for the program.

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