An update now on a state-run program that allows offenders to be free on the streets… while the system says they're in jail.
It's something the district attorney's office here feels strongly about.
Front end diversion. It's a stronger sentence than straight probation, but a lesser sentence than being sent to the state penitentiary. On paper, the offender is listed as "in jail" even though he's allowed to walk among those in the community. That's because legally, they are in jail. Serving out whatever length sentence was first given by a judge.
"It is a program that allows criminal defendants to get jail time while still out in our community doing whatever they want to do," says DA Ashley Rich.
The Department of Corrections, though, says it's beneficial for the community since the offender is still a taxpayer and can also provide for any dependents. But that doesn't apply to 19-year-old Aprentince Etheridge, who was in the program until recently when he violated parole.
"The defendant would not take the state's offer of five years to serve, we wanted him in jail serving time. He threw himself at the mercy of the court and Judge Stewart is the one that put him on the front end diversion program," says Rich.
Rich says her office does not believe in the front end diversion programs, but at the end of the day, the decision ultimately lies with the judge.
Rich says, looking at the statistics, Judge Sarah Stewart has the highest percentage of cases on the front end diversion program than any other judge in the circuit. Decisions that many believe are not fair.
"It's very difficult to explain to victim's families when the judge does put the defendant on front end diversion that they're going to be allowed to walk the streets and get jail time for it."
If you research it, you'll find offenders who are not eligible for the program are your extremely severe crimes: murders, kidnapping, rape, arson, sex crimes and other violent crimes to name a few. Rich says, in her estimation, there are very few instances where this program is applicable.