Data provided by Friendship Diversion Services show that from May to Dec. 31, 2009, the Thurston County prosecutor's office referred 923 people to the county's new precharge diversion program. Of those, 269 enrolled in the program, 580 failed to enroll, and 172 completed the program. Forty-eight people failed to comply with terms of the program.
Friendship executive director Barbara Miller attributed the high number of people who failed to enroll in Friendship after being referred to the program to one category of potential offenders – those who were referred for repeat offenses for driving with a suspended license. Those people typically could not afford to enter into a payment program that would allow them to be relicensed, so they could not enroll in Friendship, Miller said.
Thurston County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim said that because of the large number of potential offenders who failed to enroll in Friendship after being referred for a repeat driving-with-a-suspended-license violation, prosecutors no longer will refer them to the program.
FEWER CASES FOR PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE
The precharge diversion program has resulted in a decrease in the number of cases the prosecutor’s office has filed in Thurston County District Court, statistics show.
In 2005, the prosecutor’s office filed 3,681 cases in Thurston County District Court. In 2006 it filed 4,359 cases, and in 2007 it filed 3,767 cases. In 2008, the number rose to 4,168 cases filed. But in 2009, the first year the prosecutor’s office sent offenders to the precharge diversion program, the number of cases filed decreased to 3,221.
Sally Harrison, the director of Thurston County’s Office of Assigned Counsel, said that since the precharge program was implemented, 33 people have sought out attorneys from her office after they received a letter notifying them that they could enroll in Friendship or face a misdemeanor charge. Harrison noted that the attorneys who work in her office are not required to give legal advice to people who get precharge diversion letters, because they have not been charged with a crime. However, she said, the attorneys in her office are helping with legal advice for those who seek it “as a favor to the system.”
ELSEWHERE IN WASHINGTON
Other county prosecutor’s offices in Washington either have followed the Thurston County prosecuting attorney’s lead in implementing precharge diversion programs using Friendship Diversion Services or are considering doing so.
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Juelie Dalzell said economic considerations are the primary reason her office is thinking of implementing a similar program using Friendship.
“Our district court is overwhelmed with cases,” she said. “We are definitely looking into it.”
Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly said her office implemented a precharge diversion program for some District Court cases that uses Friendship four or five months ago. She said one reason her office had to implement the program was to comply with a legislative requirement that local courts offer some kind of diversion for driving-with-a-suspended-license offenses – a citation that typically clogs district courts. Kelly said the program was expanded to include other misdemeanor offenses.
In Thurston County, the Office of Assigned Counsel has won a grant to provide its own diversion program for driving-with-a-suspended-license offenders.
WHAT IT COSTS
Completing Friendship’s precharge diversion program typically involves paying a fee and attending an education workshop that is tailored to the specific misdemeanor offense that a person is at risk of being charged with.
Miller said offenders who enroll in Friendship’s precharge diversion program must pay a $225 fee to Friendship and, depending on the type of offense they are accused of, pay an additional fee for whatever class or workshop the offender enrolls in.
Friendship’s precharge diversion fee for being a minor in possession of alcohol, or drug-related charges such as marijuana possession, include a $70 fee for attending an eight-hour alcohol and drug information school. A sliding scale is available for people who might not be able to afford the fee, Miller said.
Someone who enrolls in Friendship’s precharge diversion for misdemeanor cases typically completes the program in 90 days, Miller said.
Friendship’s precharge diversion program for potential resisting-arrest offenders includes a “law enforcement workshop” run by Olympia police Lt. John Hutchings. The workshop addresses “the functions of law enforcement, obstructing/hindering laws, laws of arrest, and helps them to understand the stresses and dangers of resisting arrest,” according to Friendship. The class takes between an hour and 90 minutes, according to Friendship. Friendship’s program for resisting arrest also includes eight to 10 community-service hours.
Friendship’s precharge diversion programs for people accused of theft include a requirement that participants pay restitution “if applicable.”
Friendship Diversion Services is the Olympia-based nonprofit used exclusively by the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for all of its precharge diversion cases.