The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) featured the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney's Office in the most recent edition of Prosecutor magazine. The article focuses on Thurston County's unique diversion program known as "First Look." Members of the NDAA can access the article online here. For easy access, the article is printed i n its entirety below.
"Every case presents the opportunity for change"
In 2016, the Thurston County criminal justice system was facing challenges related to managing substantial criminal caseloads and increasing jail populations. In response to these trends, the county Prosecuting Attorney's Office developed a strategy to address certain types of criminal offenses and joined with the Thurston County Office of Public Defense, Thurston County Superior Court and the Thurston County pre-trial services agency to adopt a collaborative approach to addressing criminal behavior now known as the "First Look" program.
Research has shown that public safety is enhanced by programs that divert low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system and into community‐based resource referrals. First Look is a differential case processing program that benefits the entire justice system by identifying individuals who may not benefit from traditional prosecution and attempts to direct them away from criminal justice involvement. Although the program is only in its third year, data confirms that the First Look program generates returns to the community in terms of cost savings, public safety, long-term health and personal stability for justice-involved populations.
The title refers to the "First Look" a prosecutor takes at a defendant's file when they enter the criminal justice system. Under the First Look philosophy, prosecutors examine each case independently to proactively assess the goals of prosecution. Each case represents a unique individual and factors such as prior violations, cooperation with law enforcement, substance use disorder and mental health are taken into account as prosecutors work in partnership with the defense to determine whether an offender is a good fit for the program.
The ideal candidate for First Look is a low-risk/low-level offender and/or high-risk/low level offender who is willing to accept responsibility for their criminal behavior and work with the prosecution to modify the behaviors that brought them into the criminal justice system. Once they agree to participate, pre-trial services assesses the needs of the offender, provides continued supervision and develops personalized alternatives to incarceration, such as referral to therapeutic courts, substance use disorder treatment, mental health treatment and a myriad of connections to community services. Through connection to community resource providers, pretrial services offers individuals with substance use and mental health issues an appropriate balance of supervision, accountability, community treatment and support. The collaboration between non-traditional criminal justice partners is a driving factor in what sets the nature of this case prosecution effort apart from standard criminal prosecution.
When participants complete the program requirements, there are a number of potential resolutions available to resolve the case. If the agreed-upon conditions have been followed and the supervision plan has been completed, the charges could be reduced or dismissed entirely and the individual can continue forging a pathway to success with the skills, resources and support they received while engaging in the First Look program with the goal of not returning to the criminal justice system.