Study: Only 8 percent in Kane County 'second chance' program re-offend
Only one in 12 people who completed Kane County's pretrial diversion program for first-time, nonviolent felony offenders re-offended in a three-year span, according to a study by the Kane County state's attorney's office and Aurora University on recidivism.
"I'm incredibly thrilled," State's Attorney Joe McMahon said Tuesday. "It is the right thing to do to take a chance on people, to give them a chance to turn their lives around."
The county's pretrial diversion program, also dubbed the "second chance" program, began in 1995. Although prosecutors received plenty of anecdotal evidence that participants stayed out of trouble, they didn't quantify the recidivism rate until McMahon's office partnered with the university in late 2013.
McMahon said he didn't have any expected percentage of recidivism going into the study, but knowing that 92 percent of people stay out of trouble after three years validates his office's approach to punishing the most violent criminals while trying to give first-time offenders a chance to avoid the "scarlet letter" of a felony conviction.
In the study, a computer program randomly selected 317 participants out of 1,070 people who participated in the program from 2005 to 2010.
Of the 228 who successfully completed Kane's program, only 7.9 percent had another conviction -- either misdemeanor or felony -- in the three years after the Kane program.
And of the 79 people who failed to complete Kane's program, nearly 81 percent didn't have another conviction after three years.
Offenders who receive sentences in traditional court reoffend between 40 and 60 percent of the time, officials say.
Brandon Kooi, an Aurora University professor who worked with McMahon's office on the project, said the results show it's not just a prosecutor's job to get top sentences for all convictions and to fill up the county jail.
"These kinds of alternatives within the 21st century are extremely critical," Kooi said.
McMahon credited a variety of groups for the program's success, such as the support from law enforcement, judges, defense attorneys and panels of community members who vet applicants and weed out those who don't or won't take responsibility for their actions.
"Successful diversion programs integrate offenders back into society as law-abiding citizens through restitution to victims, rehabilitation through education and employment, and reduction of recidivism," Kane County Chief Judge Judith Brawka said. "We are fortunate in Kane County to have a state's attorney's office that is proactive in diversion programming."
The county has other pretrial diversion programs for first-time drug offenders, prostitution and domestic violence offenders.
McMahon said his office plans to next study the recidivism rate for the domestic violence diversion program.