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Suspended Drivers May Avoid Jail

A new county program offers an alternative to the lockup for those caught driving after their licenses were suspended. The program excludes alcohol-related suspensions. By Bay City News Service.

Napa County residents caught driving with a suspended license now have an opportunity to avoid a and get their license back.

The county's Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a Deferred Entry of Judgment Program spearheaded by the county District Attorney's
Office.

Offenders will pay the costs of the program managed by Auburn-based Pacific Educational Services Inc. The company is the largest provider of diversion programs in California and has been in business 29 years, according to its website.

Offenders who plead guilty to driving on a suspended license will have up to six months to get a valid license and pay fines and restitution rather than immediately going to jail, county officials said.

"Our goals with this program are to help people successfully comply with the law so they do not end up in a vicious cycle of continually returning to jail because of a suspended license, and to, as a result, reduce the overall population of the jail," Napa County Assistant District Attorney Lee Phillipson said.

Offenders must take "proactive steps" to complete the program and avoid jail time, Phillipson said. Upon completion of the program, the guilty plea is withdrawn and the case is dismissed.

The program is not available to offenders who lost their license for alcohol-related offenses.

Phillipson said the county hopes to expand the deferred judgment program to other misdemeanor offenses.

Phillipson said if unemployment, drug or alcohol abuse and criminal and violent history are addressed instead of putting an offender in jail, there will be a reduction in recidivism.

That translates into less crime and victimization, lower costs to the community and less need to build bigger and bigger jails, Phillipson said.

The Napa County District Attorney's Office prosecutes more than 500 cases of driving with a suspended license a year, Phillipson said.

Under the program, Orange County reduced its suspended license recidivism rate from 22 percent to 6 percent, Phillipson said.

The Napa County Probation Department operates a Pre-Trial Release program that allows eligible offenders to be released from jail under supervision while awaiting trial, using electronic monitoring as a jail alternative and expanding residential drug and alcohol treatment programs.

By Bay City News Service.

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