The Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office has already begun justice community initiatives that involve programs such as pre-trial diversion. But it is looking to also work on a program to discourage young people from becoming repeat offenders.
District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson has begun looking at possible programs that target people between the ages of 18 and 24, as well as programs that will involve the Juvenile Court and educational programs in the schools. Austin-Gatson took office in January, so many of the ideas she has are still being worked on.
But, reaching young people before they have a chance to commit a crime will be one of her office’s efforts.
“We want to have an initiative where we go into the schools early and speak to students and try to defer them from even coming into the system,” the new DA said. “That’s a big thing, prevention, that we’re working on.”
As for how she would like to reach young people, Austin-Gatson said there are multiple ways the District Attorney’s Office can reach them in a positive manner. That intervention could be through academics or finding ways to help their families, if they are in need.
“I would love to have some programming in our county where high school and middle school students can get some type of pay just to help the families, help them have a sense of worth, or either tutoring students or some other things,” Austin-Gatson said. “It can’t just be sports, so we’re looking at helping the community pull some things together where the youth can have more involvement.”
The Juvenile Court system is where some of those youth employment opportunities might show up.
“I’ve talked to, in the Juvenile Court, Rodney Harris and we’re trying to look at some programming where they would get paid for different types of things, after school and things like that, that would really help them,” Austin-Gatson said.
The DA’s Office is also taking steps to help adults who are first-time offenders as well.
One program Austin-Gatson’s office has begun taking on is making sure pre-trial diversion programs available to first-time offenders, such as accountability courts, are available to anyone who is arrested. These diversion programs have existed for years, but the DA’s Office is looking at how they can be implemented across all of the courts.
“We just established our justice community initiative and we’ll be exploring different areas that we need to work on,” Austin-Gatson said. “One of the things we’ve done in office is we’ve made pre-trial intervention diversion apply across all 11 court divisions and we will have it mandated that if certain crimes are done that are non-violent, people immediately go into pre-trial intervention diversion so, at some moments, that will prevent them from even having a record at all ...
“So what we’re trying to do is make it apply more continuously, and overall, than to just some people and every now and then. We’re making it broader.”