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4/16/2017 9:10:00 AM
Accused felons get second chance with St. Joseph County program

Christian Sheckler, South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Heather Hudson faced a felony conviction and up to 2½ years in jail after she allegedly left her baby in a hot car while she went shopping one day in June.

Instead, she has a chance to avoid both jail and a record by completing a supervised 18-month program intended to change her behavior and set her up to avoid future trouble with the law.

It’s a second chance those in Hudson’s position never had until last fall, when the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office began offering so-called pretrial diversion programs to felony offenders for the first time.

Previously reserved only for misdemeanor offenders, a recent change to state law and a grant from the Indiana Department of Correction allowed prosecutors here to expand the program to low-level felony cases.

Officials say the program could help nonviolent offenders and the community by addressing the root causes behind a person’s crimes, rather than simply sending people to already crowded jails and prisons.

“It allows them to take stock of their lives, to see the path they’re traveling down and attempt to rectify it,” county Prosecutor Ken Cotter said.

He added that the decision to offer the program was partly inspired by the county’s “problem-solving” drug and veterans’ courts, which also focus on life change rather than incarceration.

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