District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham yesterday publicized a new program that she hopes will pay off for the community by diverting low-level 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 news conference, joined by judges and colleagues of Municipal Court Judge Linda Anderson, who died in November.

The program, known as the Linda Anderson Alternative Treatment for Misdemeanants, targets offenders who are charged with drug possession, prostitution or retail theft. Thirty-two have entered the program since it began in March, according to Abraham's office.

To be eligible, defendants must not have been on probation or parole for any violent crime in 10 years or for any nonviolent crime in five years, officials said.

A defendant in the program can plead guilty before a judge, who will hold off sentencing until the individual has completed the program, said Charles Ehrlich, chief of the Municipal Court unit for the District Attorney's Office. The guilty plea can later be expunged, he said.

Eligible defendants will get drug, alcohol and mental-health treatment and job training. If they comply with treatment and remain arrest-free for one year, the case will be withdrawn.

Ehrlich estimated that defendants in 1,850 of the 30,000 cases handled each year would qualify.

Abraham said the program was modeled on the "highly successful" drug treatment court, which provides "appropriate treatment as determined by the Probation Department and aims to prevent further recidivism."

Contact staff writer Dwight Ott

at 215-854-2797 or dott@phillynews.com.