First Look: Creating Pathways for Positive Change.

Author:Tunheim, Jon

"Every case presents the opportunity for change"

In 2016, the Thurston County (WA) criminal justice system was facing challenges related to managing substantial criminal caseloads and increasing jail populations. In response to these trends, the county Prosecuting Attorney's Office developed a strategy to address certain types of criminal offenses and joined with the Thurston County Office of Public Defense, Thurston County Superior Court and the Thurston County pre-trial services agency to adopt a collaborative approach to addressing criminal behavior now known as the "First Look" program.

Research has shown that public safety is enhanced by programs that divert low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system and into community-based resource referrals. First Look is a differential case processing program that benefits the entire justice system by identifying individuals who may not benefit from traditional prosecution and attempts to direct them away from criminal justice involvement. Although the program is only in its third year, data confirms that the First Look program generates returns to the community in terms of cost savings, public safety, long-term health and personal stability for justice-involved populations.

The title refers to the "First Look" a prosecutor takes at a defendant's file when they enter the criminal justice system. Under the First Look philosophy, prosecutors examine each case independently to proactively assess the goals of prosecution. Each case represents a unique individual and factors such as prior violations, cooperation with law enforcement, substance use disorder and mental health are taken into account as prosecutors work in partnership with the defense to determine whether an offender is a good fit for the program.

The ideal candidate for...

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