KCUR News
9:36 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Strike One, Umpire's Watching

KANSAS CITY, MO. – Scores of first-time law breakers due to appear in Kansas City Municipal Court will get a chance to stay out of jail and clean the slate. The diversion program has started after a trial run.

Kansas City had something like this once before but it ended in the early 1980's when critics said the record-keeping outweighed benefits. Lowell Gard took over the City Prosecutor's Office first of the year and says, as an assistant for years, he's wanted to put it back in place.

To Gard, it cuts jail population, still puts money in city accounts and gives one-time offenders the ability to start over. They have to plead guilty and pay a fee, almost like a fine, then attend a program put on by social service agencies.

This city court diversion program won't apply to most traffic offenses. Gard on the trial run-- " Although it was just a handful of people, it worked 100 percent. They all completed it and all successfully managed to stay out of trouble for the six months that we put them on probation or on diversion." Larger numbers of arrests are for marijuana possession and fewer for trying to solicit a prostitute, usually a police decoy. Gard says offenders take classes ranging from drug-danger to veneral disease. there are random drug tests.

In the first year the Prosecutor expects the courts and jail will be spared the burden of hundreds of cases.