The HOPE Diversion Program, piloted by One Northside, aims to divert young, low-level victimless crime offenders out of the criminal justice system. Thus far, the positive impact is astounding with 94% of program participants not re-offending. Recently, we had the chance to interview Jeff Williams, the Diversion Program Director at Foundation of HOPE, to learn a little more about the program and the impact it has had on Northside families.
Q: What attracted you to the HOPE Diversion Program?
A: I grew up in a community where there was no trust in the police. So, when it came time for me to select a major in college, I decided on Political Science with a minor in Criminal Justice. I have intentions of making a difference in the community where I live and work, specifically related to criminal justice reform. The HOPE Diversion Program is designed to do just that, strengthen police-community relations in an effort to reduce crime in the community.
Q: What inspires you?
A: I am inspired by the smile on a mother’s face when they see the impact on their child’s life by receiving a second chance to do the right thing.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge?
A: Our biggest challenge has been gaining the trust of families. We make every attempt at meeting the families and youth where they are in life to help gain their trust and openness.
Q: Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
A: There is one particular memory I have when a 20-year-old student and her father cried in the courtroom after her charges were dismissed. This young lady was one of the initial participants in the program and her circumstance is what the Diversion program is designed for. She was charged with underage drinking, public-intoxication and being in possession of an illegal and controlled substance. Although this was her first offense, she could have received a sentence of up to 9 months in a county jail if convicted. However, after participating in the Diversion Program for 9 months, the Judge dismissed her case.
The families being positively impacted love the program as well. Debra, a parent of a recent participant in the Diversion Program, told us that she “loves how dedicated the staff are with the children” and that “they give our kids hope and opportunities without getting judged”. She believes the Diversion program “actually helps and changes kids, and has put my son on the right path”.
The HOPE Diversion Program is a collaborative partnership that involves the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Allegheny County Juvenile Probation, Housing Authority City of Pittsburgh, District Attorney’s Office, and the 5th Judicial District Court of PA.