Lawmakers, Prosecutors Want State Money For Alternative Justice Programs

Jan 23, 2020

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether the state should begin paying for deferred prosecution programs. They’re intended to give non-violent offenders a second chance.

The aim of a deferred prosecution program is to keep a conviction off the record of a non-violent, first-time offender and have them make restitution to victims. That’s contingent on their participation in things like education or life-skill training.

State Rep. Maurice West, a Rockford Democrat, says every participant’s experience is different. He said it’s “guided by the victim’s needs and allows the possibility for offenders to directly confront the human costs of their actions and make some form of amends.”

But as it stands, deferred prosecution programs only exist if local governments are willing to foot the bill.

West and others are urging lawmakers to set up a grant where local prosecutors could get money to create alternative justice programs across the state.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross says money should not be a barrier to participation.

"No individual should be excluded from this program because of their limited financial resources — because justice is blind, and justice should not have a price tag on it,” Zimmerman said.

The Kane County Deferred Prosecution Program, on which other counties have modeled their programs, has been active for 10 years and has a 75 percent success rate.

Eligible charges for the program include damage to property, retail theft, forgery, and other lower-level offenses.