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Circuit attorney’s proposal aims to keep non-violent offenders out of court system

ST. LOUIS – Critics may call it doing the crime without doing the time.

The city's top prosecutor, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, is pushing new policies she calls Justice 2020, which are supposed to cut crime and save the City of St. Louis millions of dollars.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” Gardner said.

About 400 people marched to the city jail last month demanding bail reform. Gardner sees room to do much more: primarily, continuing—if not boosting—the city’s $390,000 commitment to programs to divert non-violent criminals away from the courts and jails. The funding also includes programs to protect witnesses of violent crimes who are being threatened and, in rare cases, killed.

“We had two positions for witness/victim advocates. Their job was to go out and engage witnesses and find resources where people need to move all of the sudden; try to provide outreach to them,” Gardner said.

“We are going to increase public safety and reduce harm by focusing our resources on the violent individuals while also looking at how we handle these non-violent individuals, it makes us all safer.”

In less than a year and a half, diversion programs have provided 256 city defendants therapy, education, and training, that probation does not offer with 83 percent success rate, she said.

For Gardner, “success” means completing the programs without re-offending.

These cases are just a fraction of the 4,000-5,000 cases for which charges are issued in a given year.

She cites a larger scale program, saving Miami an estimated $6 million a year.

“This is a cure for people who are coming in and out of the system that we have to deal with, repeat offenders,” Gardner said. “This is directing people out of the system and they’re not coming back…so $390,000 to save millions of dollars, I think that’s a pretty good start.”

Current funding for the diversion and witness protection programs runs out in September. She’s calling on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to step up and keep those programs going.