MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office has started a new Community Justice Program in hopes of keeping offenders from re-offending and honoring victims.
“We’ve had community policing, you’re very familiar with that. We have community prosecution in this office. I have community prosecutors that work in precincts every day with the communities,” said District Attorney General Amy Weirich.
Now, the Community Justice Program is the newest initiative that the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office is launching. The purpose is to give a voice to community members when it comes to resolving low-level cases.
“The most violent and repeat offenders - sometimes the only option we have is to seek a prison sentence for them," said Weirich. “But for the majority of cases we see on a given day, we look for alternatives to incarceration.”
She referred to cases like low-level theft, car burglaries, and domestic assault that is not between intimate partners.
Now, with the Community Justice Program, a panel of volunteers can hear those cases and come up with a resolution. Both the defendant and the victim have to agree to let the case go before the panel. Some of the alternatives to traditional prosecution include community service or restitution to the victim.
“That panel will come up with a plan, kind of a contract if you will, for that offender to. When the offender successfully completes their plan, I’m going to dismiss the criminal charges against them and I’m going to expunge them from their record,” explained Weirich.
The DA’s office has already gathered community volunteers to be on panels, and last month began training them on the process.
Community Justice panels are set to begin hearing cases at the start of the new year. Weirich’s goal is for the program to benefit both parties involved.
“I hope victims feel honored and supported,” she said. “I hope they are made whole through the process and that they are thankful that they agreed to participate in it. And I hope the offenders that participate in this program that are given this opportunity don’t come back to the system.”