Tuscaloosa getting new court diversion program

By WVUA 23 News Reporter Aajene Robinson

First-time offenders who get caught up in the court system for smaller crimes have a route to a better life and expunged charges as Tuscaloosa County is implementing a new court diversion program.

The Second Chance program was OK’d recently by the Tuscaloosa County Commission, and District Attorney Hays Webb said its aim is helping low-level nonviolent offenders avoid a felony or misdemeanor conviction on their record.

“We are working with Tuscaloosa County Community Corrections, and they are the preferred service provider by law and will oversee the program,” Webb said. “We are also working with Indian Rivers Mental Health Center, and what they will do is provide substance abuse training and mental health treatment for those who come in the program who have elevated needs.”

Program participants can either pay their way through the program, but if they don’t have the money they’ll be offered a community service job-training option, allowing them to work off their fees and gain valuable skills for the future.

“Working with both the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and Shelton State Community College’s Ready to Work program, they will be guaranteed within six to eight weeks of them beginning the program a good job starting off between $14 to $15 an hour,” Webb said. “Thus, they’ll be better able to come back and pay the victims and complete their other obligations.”

The program is only available to first-time offenders.

“What’s really interesting about this one is the community collaboration that I think will make it a very successful program and viable into the future,” Webb said.

The Tuscaloosa County Commission is helping by paying two-thirds of a case worker’s salary at Indian Rivers.

“Indian Rivers is a state agency and they don’t have the ability to make a distinction between people in the program and not in the program, so what they need to know from the outset is that their dedicated person is going to be reimbursed,” Webb said.

The next step, Webb said, is to meet with the Community Corrections board of directors on Thursday, March 1o.

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