Washtenaw County program offers rehabilitative services to offenders before guilty plea

A new program in Washtenaw County will allow people accused of crimes to have access to rehabilitative services without pleading guilty to the crime.

An offender typically has to plead guilty in order to receive treatment, including mental health care and substance use treatment. However, a guilty plea can cause problems later, including trouble accessing housing and employment.

More: How Michigan is trying to rehab prison inmates for release, help crime victims

"I have watched defendants plead guilty with the hopes of a later dismissal, only yo turn around and lose everything -- their job, housing, and sometimes even their ability to stay in this country, " said Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Victoria Burton-Harris, who spearheaded the program. "If we truly want to stop people from cycling through our criminal legal system, we should be smart and address the root cause of the reason they entered it."

Under the new diversion program, people involved in certain misdemeanor cases can receive treatment before they enter a guilty plea. If they complete the program, which typically lasts six months, their charges will be dismissed.

Related: New Washtenaw County diversion program aims to provide resources, keep offenders out of system

"People often find their way into the criminal legal system because they are dealing with substance use, mental health issues, or poverty," Savit said. "Yet, too often we require a guilty plea to provide people access to resources."

People with certain offenses, including domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, and drunken driving, are not eligible for the program.

The program will go through an initial phase in Ann Arbor's 15th District Court before it is expanded to other courts in the county.


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