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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Editorial: A smarter approach for minor crimes

Everybody makes stupid mistakes, and a minor crime shouldn’t keep anyone from living a productive life. Hillsborough County has the right idea in giving nonviolent adults a second chance.

The county launched a new initiative this week, the Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion Program. It is for offenders who would otherwise be charged with petty crimes, from shoplifting to minor drug possession, but who are not career criminals or seen as a public menace.

Adults who commit a range of nonviolent misdemeanors could qualify for a diversion program that includes community service, restitution and the completion of an educational course, such as in anger management or substance abuse. Those who complete the program could avoid a criminal record; those who don’t would face arrest. Eligible crimes don’t include violent offenses, such as assault or domestic battery, or sex charges such as voyeurism or lewd conduct. And the program is not open to habitual offenders, or anyone who has previously been arrested on felony charges.

Pinellas County launched its version in 2016, and it has been hailed as a smarter use of judges, prosecutors, public defenders and clerks. Hills-borough’s criminal justice system is behind the program, which gives only those who deserve it a second chance. The community will be better off when productive people recover from a mistake and when the courts can focus more resources on genuine threats to public safety.

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