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Nassau County Offering Diversion Programs For Low-Level Criminal Offenders Instead Of Sending Them To Court

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Nassau County will soon be offering low-level criminal offenders a chance to turn their lives around without going to court, and in the process, it will clear some of the huge backlog in court cases.

Rodney Grayson says his youthful petty crimes escalated until he took a man's life.

"I went from stealing candy to selling candy," he told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff. "Time go on, I start dealing drugs."

He now spends his life trying to keep others from making devastating mistakes.

"Pre-arraignment diversion is a resource that can give individuals like myself a chance to change," he said.

His intervention will soon to be offered to low-level criminals instead of court.

Acting Nassau District Attorney Joyce Smith is roiling out pre-arraignment diversion for what she calls certain minor, non-violent, non-victim crimes.

"By diverting some of our cases out of the court system before arraignment, we can better focus on the most serious, most violent and most dangerous offenders," Smith said.

Diversion will be offered for offenses such as petit larceny, trespass and possession or sale of marijuana.

The launch was prompted by an 8,000-case backlog with 10% of them eligible for diversion.

Letters will go out Monday offering the option of programs that will identify needs and then provide services.

"Do you need job training? Do you need interview skills? Do you need a suit for an interview?" said Brian Lee, Nassau County Assistant District Attorney.

They will also offer drug treatment.

"Instead of trying to pull people out of the river after they've been convicted or after they've served time, we are going upstream and getting them out before they ever wind up into that stream," said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds with the Family and Children's Association.

It's not a new concept; there are diversion programs in every state. One study in New York City found participants were four times less likely to commit another crime within a year.

"No more five, six, seven, eight, ten court appearances. As someone pointed out, having to miss work," Lee said.

Fingerprints and records will be sealed if a participant is successful and does not offend again.

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