LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – The Leavenworth County Attorney’s Office is working to making the justice system fair for everyone, according to the county's attorney.
He launched a diversion program about a year ago. It allows first-time offenders, who qualify for the program, to complete community service to waive court fines, fees and application costs.
“Our system should be about helping people unless it’s a serious crime,” said Todd Thompson, the Leavenworth County attorney. “We want to see that people have equal opportunity when they get into the justice system.”
For every hour of community service performed, a person gets a $5 credit for the money they owe the courts.
Prosecutors decide if someone qualifies. Thompson stressed that diversion is a privilege, not a right.
“To get a diversion, it matters what the victim thinks, the level of the crime, their criminal history, the community safety. So there’s a lot of components before you can be allowed to be on diversion,” he explained.
The program is meant to set an equal playing field for everyone, no matter their socioeconomic status.
“The point of being able to do community service is to give everybody an equal opportunity to be successful with keeping crimes off their record,” Thompson said.
Nathaniel McRoy nearly had his freedom taken from him after he was arrested for a low-level crime.
“In that time of my life, I was just young, and I was just really depressed,” McRoy explained. “[I was] out in the streets doing something, and it just finally caught up with me and affected my life negatively.”
He’s been volunteering his time to have his record clean.
As of Thursday, he estimated he had completed more than 100 community service hours.
“[Doing community service helped] kill my depression,” he said. "Watching people’s life light up, it’s cool, and the gratitude I get from the community for doing it [makes me feel a part of the community].”
Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson understands what it means to get a second chance. His criminal record was expunged after serving three years in prison for possession of narcotics.
“When they’re able to serve, it helps them grow as a person and it helps them mature and develop and see that they do have something to offer to the community,” Wilson said about the people going through the diversion program.
It’s a lesson McRoy is learning with time as he looks ahead to his future, instead of focusing on his past.
“I hope more people get the benefit of this because everybody deserves a second chance, especially dealing with our court system,” McRoy said. “A lot of times when you go [to jail], you’re stuck looking at your past. This [helps me see] there is a future besides just jail and prison, that I can do something.”
If someone going through the diversion program owes restitution to a victim of their crime, they’re still obligated to pay them.