Savannah District Attorney Announces New Diversion Program to Address… (2024)

[ Washington, D.C. | Savannah, GA ] – As part of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Motion for Justice initiative, Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones and Georgia State Representative Carl Gilliard, founder of Savannah Feed the Hungry, announced the Show Us Your Guns! (SUYG) Differentiated Disposition Program, a new program focused on eligible young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 years old who face possible criminal charges for a firearm possession offense. In lieu of incarceration, the Savannah District Attorney’s Office is partnering with Feed the Hungry to offer these young people programming and resources specific to each participant, including job training, educational support, housing stability, health education, disaster relief, and conflict resolution. The program will attend to the needs of each person, eschewing a one-size-fits-all approach in favor of increasing each participant’s wellbeing and fostering a greater sense of security within the community.

“It is an honor to be one of ten offices in the country to partner with the Vera Institute’s Motion for Justice program. This provides us the opportunity to interrupt and prevent the entry of youth offenders into the criminal justice pipeline. Prosecuting crime is just one part of a DA’s job – another part is to prevent future occurrences of crime. This partnership, our relationship with community-based partner The Empowerment Center, and the establishment of the Show Us Your Guns! program are steps in the right direction to improve the lives of young people in our community,” said District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones.

Diversion programs tackle the root causes of crime in a community. Research has found that diversion programs can cut reoffending rates in half compared to prison sentences and grow quarterly employment rates by nearly 50 percent over a decade, with the positive effects lasting as long as 20 years. Moreover, diversion programs reduce costs and are much more effective than incarceration at preventing future interactions with the criminal legal system. Incarceration takes people away from their communities; in contrast, diverting people pre-charge to a community-based diversion program connects them to life changing treatment and support services. In this manner, a restorative process can take place that not only reduces the number of individuals who enter the criminal legal system, but creates safer neighborhoods and communities.

“I'm excited to be a part of a collaboration to help break the recidivism of incarceration and give people an alternative to turn their lives around,” said Georgia State Representative Carl Gilliard. “Everyone deserves a second chance and the Show Us Your Guns program is a wonderful opportunity for them to get restructured and to have a new beginning.”

Many efforts to decarcerate have not addressed the root causes of mass incarceration, which are perpetuated by racial inequity. In Chatham County, the Show Us Your Guns! diversion program will do so by providing needs-based services to young people charged with gun possession; nationally, these charges disproportionately impact Black people and people of color.

“Despite its widespread use, research shows that increased incarceration has a marginal-to-zero impact on crime,” said Akhi Johnson, Acting Director of the Reshaping Prosecution Initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice. “The data suggests that diversion programs provide a way to reduce the number of people who enter the criminal legal system and foster long-term public safety and better outcomes for everyone. Thanks to this diversion program, Chatham County residents will benefit from a stronger and more just community.”

New research finds that forgoing prosecution of nonviolent misdemeanor cases bolsters public safety by minimizing current exposure to the criminal legal system and substantially reducing future exposure. Individuated diversion programs are one tool that prosecutors have to address crime that delivers long-term results.

About the Motion for Justice initiative

Vera Institute of Justice’s Motion for Justice program supports prosecutors who seek to narrow the gap between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve by creating policies and practices that tackle the racial injustices deeply rooted in the criminal legal system. As part of this program, the Vera Institute of Justice partners with prosecutors and community-based organizations to examine the current impact of the criminal legal system locally; analyzes why stark racial disparities exist; and develops solutions with prosecutors and the community, recognizing that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution.

Current Motion for Justice partners include the offices of Ramsey County Attorney John Choi; Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon; Suffolk County in Massachusetts (previously led by former District Attorney Rachael Rollins); Commonwealth's Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources of Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church; Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones and Savannah Feed the Hungry; Westchester County District Attorney Miriam Rocah and The Youth Shelter of Westchester; Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephen Descano and Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources of Northern Virginia; Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit and My Brothers Keeper Washtenaw; Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and People Living in Recovery; Kauai County Prosecutor Justin Kollar and Hale Opio; Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears and Horizon House; The Freedom Community Center, St. Louis; and Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal and Racial Reconciliation.

More information about the Motion for Justice initiative is available at https://motionforjustice.vera.org.

About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and community organizers working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information about Vera, visit vera.org.

Savannah District Attorney Announces New Diversion Program to Address… (2024)
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