A Rainmaker and Criminal Justice Reform

I must admit, we are genius’s when it comes to money-making schemes, even in the justice system.

Like many, I have always been an advocate for much needed Criminal Justice Reform. Mandatory sentences, the way police operate, the prosecutorial process, judges’ rulings on Constitutional protections and unjust targeting of certain classes of people or “crimes” are just some of the problematic areas beginning to see reform efforts come to fruition. As touted by the politicians, and rightly so I may add, these reforms will bring opportunities to those who have found themselves on the wrong side of the justice system.

In some cases the opportunities are to be proven innocent, and, in other cases, the opportunities are for second chances to become productive citizens and to have a better life. Still, in other cases, the opportunities come, not for those accused of committing crimes, but for those in charge of prosecuting crimes.

The District Attorney’s office in Rapides Parish Louisiana saw the opportunity in the criminal justice reform movement and transformed that opportunity into what some might call a rainmaker of sorts. The specific means, in this case, was the rapid expansion of what is known as a pretrial diversion program.

In pretrial diversion, defendants are given the opportunity to pay money to have their charges dismissed or dropped altogether. No expensive trials and time-wasting by any of the parties on either side of the case. As one can imagine, this is a slippery slope initiative with abuse opportunities aplenty. What cases get qualified for this program, what are the fees, and who keeps the fees? Is this another example of the rich buying their way out of the justice system while the poor are stuck in it?

Regarding the fees in Rapides Parish, they can range anywhere between $250 for traffic tickets to $1,500 for felonies. At this point, it should be noted that all these fees are kept by the District Attorney’s office. What could go wrong when the office directly in charge of prosecuting crime can achieve financial gain by not prosecuting crime? In 2017, it is alleged that the District Attorney’s office benefited by “diverting” defendants to the tune of $2.2 million. That is more than ten times what previous District Attorneys had done.

Anyway, this all came to light because the Parrish started wondering why money from fines (that went to the Parrish general fund) was declining while the diversion money (stays with the DA’s office) was drastically increasing, and, of course, now there is a lawsuit between the Parrish leadership and the District Attorney’s office.

Lawsuits aside, diversion programs are nothing new and almost all states have them in some form. The question is whether or not they are justly used to keep those out of the prison system who truly shouldn’t be there. There are accusations in many states that diversion systems are administered in such a way as to hurt the poor and help the politically connected. It’s just another example of how difficult it is to keep the scales of justice in balance.

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