Fairfax County prosecutor’s diversion program offers people help instead of putting them in jail

Lula Kelly, of Opportunities Alternatives Resolutions, and Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Whether someone’s trying to get a job or rent an apartment, a criminal record can pose a problem. Fairfax County, Virginia’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is letting some offenders avoid that by offering help instead.

People completing the Deferral and Dismissal Pilot Program can have charges removed from their records.

“This program is not for violent crime; it’s not for sexual crime; it’s not for domestic violence,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said at Wednesday’s announcement.

Descano said diversion is a way to prevent recidivism and build long-term community safety.

“We help somebody find a job, so they don’t have to steal; we help them with their mental health and their drug issues, so they don’t need to self-medicate and find themselves having lost that job,” he said.

The goal is “one person whose life we changed, but who the community doesn’t need to worry about that he’s going to be out on the street committing crimes.”

The program is being implemented in partnership with the restorative justice organization Opportunities Alternatives Resources, which connects people with resources within the community such as housing, transportation or rehabilitation.

“We look at getting people resources to help them realize and recognize what they’ve done, and how they can change those things and change the trajectory of their lives,” said OAR’s Lula Kelly.

Participants meet weekly with case workers who monitor their progress and need to fulfill responsibilities related to services being offered.

“That could be attending a program; that could be attending a therapy session with a mental health provider; that could be following through with their substance abuse treatment; that could be applying for housing. So there are a variety of things that that could entail,” Kelly said.

The program is made possible through a one-year grant from the Vera Institute of Justice, which is funding one position at OAR for a case manager, as well as to help with data collection and data analysis.

Six people currently are in the program. The goal is to expand the program to include 35 people whose lives Descano said could be changed.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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