MONTPELIER – Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan held a reception Wednesday night to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Vermont’s court diversion program, which gives people charged with a crime the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction.
“What a revolutionary idea that you could take it out of the courthouse and bring it into the community,” Donovan said. “That you could believe in a concept of repairing the harm and get away from the adversarial system.”
The percentage of misdemeanor cases referred to court diversion doubled from 10 percent in 2017 to 20 percent in 2018, with 85 percent of participants successfully completing the program.
Those working in the program believe offenders learn from their mistakes and are less likely to commit another crime. Sgt. Keith Gallant from Vermont Fish & Wildlife spoke at the reception and detailed a situation he had with court diversion – a teenager had shot his mailbox and instead of going to court, he talked about gun safety at several of Gallant’s hunter safety courses.
“I had discussions with my wife and son about it after both classes,” Gallant said. “This was a young man that wasn’t going to be burdened with a criminal background, but instead he probably learned a valuable lesson. He understood that someone had felt victimized.”
Donovan said the program helps his overall goal of bringing down incarceration rates.
“We’re talking about solving problems in the community… Addiction, mental illness, housing, transportation and jobs,” Donovan said. “Let’s make sure we invest in systems like court diversion, and drive down our incarceration rate while increasing public safety.”
Last year, the Legislature added presumptive referral to juvenile diversion if a child presents a low to moderate risk to reoffend, while also replacing the sealing of diversion records with expungement.