Diversion program gives offenders a second chance

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Twenty-four-year-old Jarmal Coats was arrested for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and was facing jail time when he was given a second chance through the diversion program.

"I wasn't trying o got to jail, so I said, yes," said Coats. "Basically it was a chance for me to reflect on my life and my bad doing."

Todd Juluke is a diversion counselor. The program, through the District Attorney's office, enables non-violent offenders the opportunity to avoid conviction by completing an education program, job skills training and substance abuse counseling.

"The diversion program is not a punishment," said Juluke.  "It's more or less like we want you to look at the things that you've done to get caught up and we want you to change your life from the way of thinking to something else."

Budget cuts forced the diversion program to abandon it's former office and move into the DA's office where construction is still underway. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says he believed the program was too important to disband.

"We essentially halt the prosecution of those individuals and if they successfully complete the program than the charges filed against them are dismissed," said Leon Cannizzaro. "It's a sacrifice we were willing to make because the diversion program is so very successful."

Since 2014, 778 people successfully completed the program.

"Only 18 of them have come back after completing the program and have been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony," said Cannizzaro.

"So, I think we express an unconditional love and advocation for clients so that they can start loving themselves and they can live a fruitful life. That is our goal for our clients," sayid Juluke.

The diversion program operates on three tracks demanding on the participants charge. Some take 9 months, while others like, Jarmal Coats take 2 years to complete the program.

"Like when Jarmal came, he didn't want to be part of this. The women counselors had him and they gave him to me. His life has changed," said Juluke.

Coasts is working as a waiter's apprentice at Antoines and is considering getting a second job to better himself even more. Knowing he could be in jail this Thanksgiving, instead of with his family, Coats says he has a lot to be thankful for today.

"I'm going by every family member and get two to three plates. I'm going to enjoy my family time with everybody I love," says Coats.