Ten Broomfield teens have been referred into the city and county’s new municipal diversion program since the start of October.
For diversion program staff, that’s 10 residents who were diverted from the criminal justice system and instead provided with need-based services.
Broomfield’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Organizational Development Vanessa Oldham-Barton said creating a municipal diversion program has been talked about for a long time in Broomfield. When she took the reins of the newly-created position last year, she said starting the diversion program was one of the areas she wanted to focus on in her first year.
The program is designed for individuals accused of low-level crimes. Instead of taking the defendant through the criminal justice system, they have the opportunity to enter diversion and graduate without a criminal record.
Broomfield’s program started with a team of city and police staff who began researching what programs are available and what other municipalities were doing. The team eventually connected with the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s office, which presides over Broomfield.
“It just all worked out,” Oldham-Barton said. “It took probably a year of meeting and figuring things out and to land at the thing that makes the most sense and that was easiest to access for us, too. … It was sort of like a ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment. We’ve had access all along. It’s been a really good partnership.”
Dean Bennett, project specialist with development, diversity, equity and inclusion, is in charge of tracking the participants through the program and educating the Broomfield Police Department on the program. He explained the diversion program is up to the officer’s discretion, but it’s important to give officers another option besides writing someone a ticket. There are certain requirements that have to be met, such as the victim having to approve, the perpetrator has to be motivated and also admit they did something wrong.
“The consequences are pretty immediate, compared to the court system,” Bennett continued. “Which works better for juveniles. Typically, they’re going to get their meeting with diversion within two weeks, typically eight days. They can complete everything on a municipal charge within four months. If you’re going through the court system it can be very slow, and while waiting, they could get themselves in further trouble because their needs aren’t met.”
Providing the needs to be successful
Diversion isn’t punitive, he explained, but rather a need-based approach.
“And they look at the whole family and what the kiddo needs to become successful as opposed to just giving them consequences,” he said.
Those wraparound services are crucial, Oldham-Barton added.
“Hopefully, keeping kids from going further into the juvenile courts system or the adult system,” she said. “It speaks to Broomfield’s values as a whole, just making sure we’re providing those services and coming at things from a needs-based (approach,) meeting people where they are.”
The 10 program participants are all in different phases of the months-long curriculum. They spend about two to three hours a week with diversion staff, participating in things such as anger management, counseling sessions and restorative justice — tailored to what would best serve the participant.
The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which serves Adams and Broomfield counties, already has a diversion program in place, which DA Brian Mason considers one of the best programs in the country. Instead of Broomfield creating its own diversion program, the DA’s office offered to expand their diversion program to include municipal level offenses in Broomfield free of charge.
The majority of cases are drug related or municipal fighting, Director of Communications for the 17th Judicial DA’s office Chris Hopper said.
Mason is committed to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, a concept where young people who commit a crime while in school often have a hard time leaving the system. For him, the municipal diversion program helps to disrupt the flow of that pipeline
“My hope is that we’ll dramatically decrease the number of people going into the criminal justice system,” he said, “and be able to make the community safer and the criminal justice system better in the process.”
Oldham-Barton stressed the program’s kinks are still getting worked out. But even if the program helps one person, it’s worth it, she said.
Prior to this position, she spent years working in Broomfield’s Workforce Center where she said she saw what a roadblock having a criminal record can be.
“It definitely is a barrier to employment,” she said. “If we can eliminate that — teach a lesson — and continue to have them be productive. The worst thing (that could happen) is to have some small, minor thing lead to a bigger thing that maybe leads to incarceration. That impacts the community as a whole and takes away from people being able to contribute to society, which is the last thing we want.”
Hope to provide more diversion opportunities
While it’s may be hard to quantify the program’s success, the Oldham-Barton and Bennett would love to one day see the program expand and to provide diversion opportunities for other types of low-level crimes.
“There are certain things that may never be measurable, other than maybe they just didn’t recidivate,” Bennett said. “But maybe this is going to be the turning point in some kid’s life, if that makes sense.”
When presenting the program to the Broomfield City Council in September, Mason said his office’s diversion program has an 85% success rate, meaning 85% of the graduates don’t reenter the criminal justice system within the next three years.
Councilman Deven Shaff asked what the cost would be to not have a diversion program.
“There’s no question that the statistics are very clear that preventative measures are far more cost effective than putting people in jail or prison,” Mason said. “The cost of keeping somebody in prison for just one year is $30,000 per person. … When we can keep someone out of the criminal justice system altogether, it is exponentially cheaper for the community.”
For Oldham-Barton, the program’s birth wouldn’t have been possible without the help of multiple people across different departments — the City Council, the city and county manager, the police chief, the municipal prosecutor and the municipal judge. When everyone is on board with a program designed to better a community, it’s a no-brainer.
“Because they can see the potential and understand the consequences. Without something like this, there’s a chance someone does fall through the cracks or get caught in the system. If there had been a bit of prevention it could’ve changed their lives,” she said. “We’re extremely fortunate. Broomfield is one of those unique places, that we’re still small enough to truly come together and create these impactful moments.”