When a person is convicted of a felony, that charge marks him or her for the rest of their lives. But a new Winnebago County program hopes to give non-violent offenders a second chance.
The program is called 'Deferred Prosecution.' It's modeled off of a similar one in Kane County, where 80 to 85 percent of participants never have another criminal charge.
Tommy Meeks works with men and women who have criminal backgrounds. He says he's seen the snowball effect it has on a person. "When a guy has an arrest on his record, it's hard for him to get a job. I can't say that's right or wrong, but the reality is, it's difficult to get a job. And if a person gives up on the ability to earn a living legally, it's just a tough situation to be in."
Tommy hopes to be a contributor to the new program that rehabilitates and reintroduces non-violent offenders into society.
The plan aims to give first time felony offenders a clean slate, if they are willing to work for it.
"If an individual can demonstrate to us that they're sincere about wanting a second chance and understand the value of that and are willing to go through the rigors of the program, they those are good candidates for Deferred Prosecution," explains Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato.
Only people with class 2 felonies or lower can participate. This includes burglary, and some drug charges, for example.
If accepted into the program, the person might be told to complete a GED, pay restitution, and do community service.
In return, the Winnebago County State's Attorney will drop the felony charge.
"It makes it easier for them to be successful going forward, much more opportunity to be employable, better opportunity to avoid repeating offenses," says Bruscato.
As incentive to stick with the program, each participant must submit a video-recorded confession, which will be kept on file. If the person fails to meet the requirements, that video can be used as evidence in court.
The County hopes to have the program operational by the first of the year. But for that to happen, they need volunteers.
"All we ask is that you bring your life experiences so that when we have applicants to the Deferred Prosecution Program. You can help us judge whether or not they are individuals that present this sincerity that is necessary to show they want a second chance," says Bruscato.
Volunteers need to be available 4 hours per month. If you want more information, leave a message at the Winnebago County State's Attorney's office, that number is 815- 319- 4700.
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