Crime diversion program approved in Fulton County

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ATLANTA - The way police do their jobs in Fulton County could drastically change. Local leaders approved a program that would keep some suspects out of jail. Police can now decide whether a suspect should be locked up in jail or be sent to social services.

Racial Justice Action Center Director Xochitl Bervera has advocated for pre-arrest diversion for three years.

"So pre-arrest diversion diverts people out of the criminal justice system, not just jail and prison but out of the system as a whole and gets people into life-changing quality services," Bervera said.

The Atlanta City Council and Fulton County Commission unanimously voted to create a program that aims to alleviate jail overcrowding and crime.

The program will give police and prosecutors the power to let people who commit non-violent crimes get help instead of going to jail.

"Many people are arrested that should not be arrested," Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall said. "They need another type of support and another type of service."

The suspects would meet with a caseworker and could receive mental health, drug addiction or job placement services.

Not everyone Channel 2's Rikki Klaus spoke with agreed the program will work for repeat offenders.

"It becomes spooky if they can't take the hint and discontinue the unacceptable conduct," Atlanta resident Bob Brown said.

Pre-arrest diversion exists in just a few other cities, including Seattle and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

"It has reduced recidivism by up to 60 percent. That means it reduces crime," Bervera said.

Supporters say the program takes the focus off small crimes like failure to show up to court and allows officers to focus more on dangerous criminals. 

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