An innovation which creates jobs and saves taxpayers money while applying swift justice is being utilized productively by the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, new District Attorney Jack Browning told reporters at a news conference last Friday.
“A well-run, pre-trial diversion program where the offender may be required to attend classes, participate in counseling sessions, submit to random drug testing (all at the offender’s expense) and perform community service can be a helpful tool for courts to use to contain the cost of housing inmates,” said Browning. “Another significant advantage pre-trial programs offer is the ability to collect restitution for the victims of crimes. While money can never fully compensate the victim of a crime, forcing those who commit crime to repay the victims sends a powerful message of accountability.”
Browning’s office said the pre-trial diversion program was created by a predecessor, former District Attorney James Osborne of the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, which includes Haralson and Polk Counties. Approximately $14,000 in crime victim compensation has been collected by the judicial circuit since 2009, the office said.
Browning, who was elected District Attorney last November, said pre-trial diversion generates monetary restitution for victims and allows speedier justice. “By cleaning the cases involving non-violent offenders from the court calendar, it helps make justice for victims for the more serious cases much swifter.”
After assessing the program before taking office, Browning switched control of pre-trial diversion from a private firm in Cumming to the local probation office so that program fees, typically $35 per month, could stay in Haralson and Polk Counties.
“I believe in doing all I can to keep resources from leaving our community,” Browning said. “I like the idea of keeping jobs in our community while maintaining local control. For those reasons, I asked our Misdemeanor Probation offices to administer and manage the program, thereby keeping control over the program local, and all the revenue generated by the program local.”
The program requires the selected non-violent offenders to perform community service.
“Hard work never hurt anyone,” Browning said. “When our community can see non-violent probationers picking up trash or performing other service work around the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, they can see that criminals will be punished. It lets the criminals know that they will be held accountable. I commend James Osborn’s vision in creating this program.”
Browning’s office said that program participants in Haralson County performed some 85 hours of community service and paid the county some $6,000 in 2012. They also spent 80 hours and paid $10,000 in Polk County. Haralson and Polk together have received approximately $60,000 in program fees since 2009.
“Pre-trial programs work and they are successful,” Browning affirmed. “We are fortunate to have dedicated people working in our local Misdemeanor Probation offices that serve both Polk and Haralson Counties and are willing to provide the assistance and professionalism. I look forward to partnering with all of them to make the transition to local control as smooth as possible.”
Browning also said he plans on making some other changes in prosecution in the county
“We want to jam the revolving door,” Browning said of the criminal incarceration pattern. “Career repeat offenders need to be locked up. Catch and release has been the rule in the past. The sheriff and clerk’s office are overwhelmed.”
In an effort to clear a case backlog, Browning praised his Chief Deputy Assistant District Attorney Chuck Rooks for successfully presenting 91 cases to the grand jury last week. He said Rooks got the January term grand jury to return 82 true bills of indictment.
“We’re not looking for continuances,” said Rooks. “We’re telling judges, ‘Let’s go to trial.’”
Browning acknowledged that bringing cases to trial and getting convictions would add to the jail’s numbers; however, he also said that his office would focus on getting non-violent offenders out of the jail to make room for serious offenders.
“We need to get the people out of jail who don’t need to be there,” Rooks said. “The molesters and repeat offenders need to stay.”
Rooks and Browning said the problem of making room for more inmates would take care of itself as convictions increase.
“Once we convict them, they belong to the state,” Browning said. “The state has to come pick them up as soon as we convict them, and then they’re no longer sitting in our jail awaiting trial.”
According to Browning, the DA’s office has spent the past few months addressing a backlog of cases; however, Browning and his staff still have a long way to go as there are still several cases awaiting trial.
“We are dedicated to clearing these cases and letting criminals know that they do not get a free pass in Haralson County,” Browning said.