Usually a deal from the district attorney is one that criminals shouldn't refuse, especially if it keeps them out of jail with a chance to have the charges wiped from their record.
Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham yesterday announced creation of a misdemeanant court for low-level crimes, including some drug-possession cases, retail theft and prostitution.
The Linda Anderson Alternative Treatment for Misdemeanants - named for a Municipal Court judge who died in November after a long bout with cancer - will enable those arrested on such charges to get a year's probation and drug, alcohol and mental-health treatment, while getting help in finding steady work.
The program is modeled on the successful treatment court for drug offenders, which assigns treatment as determined by the Probation Department and which aims to prevent recidivism.
To be eligible for the misdemeanant court, defendants must not have been on probation or parole for a violent crime in the last 10 years, or in the last five years for nonviolent offenses.
Once an offender has completed the program, the arrest will be dropped from the record - a carrot many offenders should find too tempting to pass up, Abraham said.
"We want to help people get the help that they need," Abraham said at a news conference in her Center City offices. "This allows them to avoid the horrible consequences of a criminal record."
President Judge Louis J. Presenza, who will oversee the court, joined Abraham at the news conference, as did judges Ronald B. Merriweather, Lydia Y. Kirkland, John O'Grady and George Overton. All spoke glowingly of Judge Anderson and the program named in her honor.
The program - which has accepted 35 out of a possible 1,800 eligible offenders - not only benefits those arrested, but has a fiscal impact, she said.
Defendants and their attorneys will be reached at the pretrial phase. If the defendant accepts, then witnesses won't have to be called, lawyers won't be assigned and cops and witnesses don't need to take days off to appear in court - all of which, she said, will save the city and state money.