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ACPO program allows treatment alternatives to some offenders

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A new program will allow some Atlantic County offenders to downgrade their charges in exchange for treatment.

The Alternative Prosecution for Positive Outcomes aims to interrupt the cycle of violence by giving certain eligible offenders the chance to downgrade their charges or enter diversion by agreeing to a course of trauma-informed therapeutic treatment, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office announced Friday.

The Prosecutor's Office is partnering with Wellbeing and Equity Innovations, or WEI, a nonprofit that created the program that institutes an evidence-driven, trauma-responsive approach to the interruption of violent behavior.

"Working in this field for so long, you sort of see anecdotally what the research shows," Executive Assistant Prosecutor Rick McKelvey told BreakingAC. "You see the cycle play out. Today's victim may be tomorrow's defendant."

Seeing that experiencing crime and its residual effects is a catalyst in violence is an observation anyone in law enforcement can make, he said.

"Through this partnership, we learned about the actual research and evidence behind it," McKelvey said.

Even those just growing up in a particularly high-crime area can show signs of post-traumatic stress, he noted.

Those symptoms can include sensitivity to stress, negative emotions, pursuing of risk or stimulation with an impaired ability to assess the consequences, aggression, impulse control and substance use issues.

"People who experience trauma are more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, even recidivism," he said.

Victims are also at greater risk for future victimization.

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The Prosecutor's Office "has made strides in addressing crime when motivated by substance abuse and mental illness,” Atlantic County Prosecutor William Reynolds said. “But so many crimes are caused by poor decision-making and an inability for young people to see and appreciate the consequences of their actions.

"This violence escalates and results in tragedy," he added.

This is especially seen among younger adults, "whose behavior tends to escalate from lesser criminal offenses to more violent ones," McKelvey said.

The new program focuses more on those charged with lesser crimes, before their criminality escalates to violence.

"By working with WEI and community stakeholders to interrupt this cycle, we are taking a comprehensive approach to the problem can make our county safer," Reynolds explained.

Residents of Atlantic County with pending indictable offenses are eligible, with limitations on the type of crime.

Those with first- or second-degree crimes are excluded, except for charges such as eluding, burglary, robbery or aggravated assault. No crimes against children, domestic violence cases or sexually based offenses are eligible.

That also excludes Megan's Law offenders or those under parole or community supervision for life.

Participants cannot have pending indictable charges in another jurisdiction.

Handgun cases will be considered only if a full, non-custodial Graves Act waiver has been issued.

Those in the program will work with a WEI social worker to develop an individualized plan with as many as 24 sessions.

There they will learn healthy coping strategies, emotional regulation and flexible thinking to navigate life.

Additional support may also be available, including housing, employment, education and mental or substance use treatment.

An important part of the program is working with community-based groups, McKelvey said.

Local people have already been hired, with more wanted to be involved in outreach and treatment.

Anyone with a pending case interested in applying should reach out to their defense attorney. Applications are available online.


Lynda Cohen

BreakingAC founder who previously worked in newspapers for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.




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