This post is brought you courtesy of our wonderful intern Elijah Hack. Elijah Hack is a senior at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and does great work for us.
As part of their series “No Money, No Mercy,” the New York Times examined diversion programs across the state in their Monday, December 12th front page article.
Diversion programs are designed to relieve the criminal justice system from the large number of low-risk first time offenders. Defendants entering into diversion complete rehabilitative programs and community service in exchange for keeping felony and misdemeanor offenses off their record.
Theoretically, diversion is a fantastic program that both helps overburdened courts and defendants, but unfortunately programs are offered at the discretion of the prosecutor’s office and often include substantial fees.
As the NY Times points out, rarely are fee waivers or reductions offered to defendants, meaning that only the select few that can afford the program, receive justice. If defendants are unable to pay diversion fees, the offer can be revoked. Often times, defendants will not even be offered diversion programs if they are deemed too poor to afford it.
In many ways, diversion is similar to the expungement fees for individuals who wish to clear their criminal record after years of waiting. In 2016, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a law that allows certain Class D felonies to be expunged from someone’s record – at a price. The filing fee for expunging a felony conviction is $500 (with an additional $40 fee for a Certificate of Eligibility – a required part of the filing). Such a price deters many Kentuckians who are trying to clear their record and help themselves and their family have a better life.
Justice should not be afforded to those who have the means to pay for it and denied to those who cannot. Expungements and diversion programs give individuals the opportunity to get over the mistakes they have made and get on with their lives. These life altering opportunities should be accessible for all Kentuckians, not just those with large wallets.