The Kane County state's attorney's office first offered a pretrial diversion program in 1995 for first-time, nonviolent offenders to avoid a felony conviction.
About 80 percent of the 5,000 people who were admitted into the program successfully completed it, but have they stayed out of trouble since then?
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The state's attorney's office will work with Aurora University and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to measure the three-year recidivism rate for people who have completed the program.
"It's just a self-evaluation," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said in his monthly media meeting Tuesday. "I talk about how great the programs are. Eventually, those have to be tested."
The study will assess a random sample of 317 participants out of 1,070 who successfully completed the diversion program from January 2005 through September 2010. The study will track criminal convictions within a three-year period after each person completed the program.
In the felony diversion program, the offender if approved must sign an agreement at his or her next court appearance and provide a videotaped statement admitting to the elements of the case and his or her involvement in it. Participants also might be required to complete community service hours, obtain a high school diploma or G.E.D., obtain counseling, write a letter of apology to the victim, pay full restitution to the victim, and pay program fees.
Michelle Halbesma, a Kane County assistant state's attorney who oversees the office's diversion programs and who also is a graduate student at Aurora University, will do the bulk of the research.
"I want some outside eyes looking at this, a critical eye. I think this will help us develop a better assessment level on the front end," McMahon said.
Brandon Kooi, an Aurora University associate professor of criminal justice, will assist Halbesma in the research.
Kooi said the work will begin in January and hopefully wrap up in April or May.
"The hope is that in the future we can compare samples that are matched with the traditional probation route," said Kooi, who noted there is no established standardization of diversion programs that shows one approach works better than others. "We're trying to hold offenders more accountable. If the system is simply looking for convictions, there is potential to do more harm than good."
Kooi said that generally speaking, the recidivism of felony offenders is 50 percent within three years of the initial conviction.
He expects the Kane County numbers to yield a lower percentage but declined to put a number on it.
"My assumption is we're going to have a significant reduction and a significant difference for the ones who have gone through this diversion program than those who have not," he said.
McMahon's office has four additional diversion programs: first-time felony drugs, domestic battery, solicitation/prostitution, and misdemeanor drug and alcohol.