DeKalb County diversion program aims to break cycles of incarceration among young adults

The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office is taking a unique approach to second chances.

Since 2020, District Attorney Sherry Boston has been dismissing criminal charges for young adults between the ages of 17 and 24 who participate in a year-long, pretrial diversion program known as STRIDE, or Stopping Trends of Repeat Incarceration with Diversion and Education.

Jada Cunningham, 22, is one of 15 graduates from this year’s class.

“I thank everybody for helping us reclaim the best versions of ourselves,” Cunningham said. “It’s truly amazing the roller coaster that life is to watch a terrible moment like being arrested turn into such a beautiful moment like this is truly a gift.”

The voluntary program is intended to hold young people accountable for serious, nonviolent crimes they have committed, while also ensuring their civic and career opportunities remain intact.

Participants must have a charge that’s out of guidelines for normal pretrial diversion, prior contact with the justice system or more than one felony pending, or be at high risk of re-offending. The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office invites 60 to 75 individuals to participate before arriving at a cohort of 20.

A handful decline. Some are unable to finish.

While many diversion programs are limited to misdemeanor offenses, such as shoplifting and drug possession, STRIDE is more intensive because it uses Moral Reconation Therapy to help individuals develop better decision-making skills and connect to their community.

Cunningham’s mom, Tiffany Jones, said she’s noticed a big difference.

“She definitely learned her lesson,” Jones said. “That’s not what she wanted her life to be and it was a mistake that actually made her step back, regroup and gain a different perspective on her life.”

Lisa Moultrie, deputy chief assistant district attorney, said participants undergo job training, monthly meetings and book reports. And when they graduate from the program, their cases are dismissed and restricted.

“So that when they are going for their education, their housing, their future jobs, those employers, landlords, creditors are not going to see that they were arrested for this felony,” Moultrie said.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, the recidivism rate among individuals released from prison is around 30%. However, that doesn’t include felony probation, where up to two-thirds of people are re-arrested within three years due to new offenses or technical violations of their probation terms.

Moultrie said they hope participating in STRIDE will help young people avoid that cycle.

Moving forward, Cunningham said she wants to be a film writer or district attorney.

“I’ve got a lot of plans,” Cunningham said, laughing. “There’s a lot of stuff that I want to do. But I definitely just feel hopeful now.”


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