Prosecutor: diversion program works

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- It's working and it's time to expand.

Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo says diversion programs work and are good for individuals and the community as a whole.

That's the message Pennington County's prosecutor brought the Black Hills Forum and Press Club Friday about the county's innovative diversion programs that are keeping some offenders out of jail.

State's Attorney Mark Vargo told a lunch crowd that the young adult diversion program launched three years ago is showing such success that he has started in with older offenders.

The program is not open to everyone -- just non violent offenders. It provides an alternative to jail that puts people back on track. If they complete the rigorous program, Vargo can expunge their record -- and let them pursue life without a crippling conviction on their record.

"What we've done in young adult diversion absolutely has shown that some of the principals of getting kids out of trouble can lead to a better community," Vargo said. "What we've got now has been incredibly successful, a recidivism rate of under 16 percent, so we're looking to expand these programs to older adults and possibly even into drug cases."

Vargo said a key component to the successful program -- to which some 900 cases have been referred -- is community partners. He says many organizations and businesses provide opportunities for the offenders in the program. His office is looking for new partners as he expands the diversion program.