District Attorney Lynne Abraham today announced a new program called ATM that she hopes will divert minor lawbreakers from the criminal justice system - an encounter that often prevents future employment.
"Young people don't understand that a criminal record is forever," Abraham said at a press conference flanked by judges and colleagues of the late Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Linda Anderson, for whom the program is named.
The new program, Abraham said, officially dubbed Linda Anderson Alternative Treatment for Misdemeanants (ATM), targets offenders who are charged with drug possession, prostitution or retail theft.
Thirty-two defendants have entered the program since it began in March, according to a statement from Abraham's office.
To be eligible, defendants cannot have been on probation or parole for any violent crimes within the past 10 years, or for non-violent crimes within the past five years, officials said.
Charles Ehrlich, chief of the Municipal Court unit for Abraham's office, said after the press conference that under the program, a defendant would plead guilty before a judge but the judge would hold off on sentencing until the individual completes the program. He said the guilty plea could later be expunged.
The program targets lower level offenders and is offered only through the Municipal Court's Pre-Trial Room to which all defendants go within six weeks of their arrest. There they are assessed and referred to an appropriate program.
If the defendant does not comply with the ATM program, Abraham said, the person can be found guilty and sentenced.
Ehrlich estimated that of 30,000 cases handled each year, some 1,850 would qualify.
According to Abraham's office, eligible defendants will be put on one-year probation with drug, alcohol and mental health treatment, as well as job training arranged by the Probation Department. If the defendant complies with treatment and remains arrest-free for one year, the charges will be withdrawn.
She said the program is modeled after the "highly successful" drug treatment court for drug offenders, which provides "appropriate treatment as determined by the Probation Department and aims to prevent further recidivism."