Op-Ed: New Partnership to Offer Alternative Sentencing to Some Defendants
A prosecutor, a cop, and a formerly incarcerated person walk into a social services center.
Sounds like the set up for a joke, or a bizarre news story we might discuss on my radio program. But this is actually happening on March 7 in Covington, Kentucky, when a commonwealth’s attorney, a former state trooper who is now head of a social services facility, and a man who spent more than two decades in prison come together to announce a partnership that will offer a chance at redemption for those who have made mistakes, but who are better suited for treatment and programming than prison time.
Covington is home to an innovative "life change" facility called the Life Learning Center (LLC). LLC is a nonprofit organization founded by successful businessman and philanthropist William P. Butler that helps at-risk citizens reach their highest potential by finding a living-wage career. The 12-week education and care continuum focuses on breaking down barriers in all domains of life, including physical, relational, spiritual, financial and emotional. In addition to life skills training, those who join LLC, or "members" as they’re called, are offered on-site resources such as legal aid, food assistance, tax preparation assistance, mental health counseling and more. Once you are member at LLC, you are a member for life.
LLC is led by former state trooper and state representative Alecia Webb-Edgington. For years, Webb-Edgington, along with Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders, admittedly led the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" brigade at Kentucky’s state legislature, and opposed policies they felt were "soft on crime." And yet, ironically, it is these two individuals who have come together to announce a partnership that will offer diversion and alternative sentencing opportunities for select individuals with pending felony charges.
Under this partnership, prosecutors will identify defendants with potential to avoid recidivism and recommend enrollment in LLC. Defendants who complete the program will avoid incarceration and, in some cases, will be eligible for reduced or even dismissed charges.
Why divert to LLC? The statistics produced by the program show it works. Upon admission, 77 percent of the members are unemployed and 87 percent have children to support. These individuals have significant disadvantages: 85 percent report at least one physical or mental health disability, and the vast majority of this group suffers from substance abuse.
But upon completion of the programming at LLC, 100 percent of graduates are employed and 68 percent of the graduates retain their jobs for at least a year, which is astonishing given their challenges. LLC is getting people healthy, back on their feet and putting them to work, which enables them to support their families. And the greatest single deterrent to returning to crime is a job.
These results are why leaders on both sides of the aisle are supportive of commonsense reforms to the justice system that can reduce incarceration, increase employment and ultimately lower crime and recidivism rates. Just recently, President Donald Trump championed the First Step Act, prison and sentencing reform legislation that passed Congress overwhelmingly late last year. The president even devoted a large part of his State of the Union address to this achievement, recognizing the first man released under the bill, Matthew Charles, whose story of redemption drew a lengthy (and rare) standing ovation on both sides of the aisle.
I’ll be honored to join Matthew Charles, Alecia Webb-Edgington, Rob Sanders and many more from our community at the formal announcement of the new partnership at the Life Learning Center. I hope you’ll join us on the evening of March 7 at LLC in Covington, when there may even be a surprise announcement about significant new resources to support this work. Then you can see with your own eyes the prosecutor, the cop, the formerly incarcerated person – and this former pro football player – walk into a social services center and work together to make our neighbors stronger and our community safer.
Rocky Boiman is an ESPN college football color analyst, host of "The Eddie & Rocky Show" on 700 WLW, and former 8-year NFL player and Super Bowl XLI champion. He resides in Cincinnati with his wife and two children.
Photo: Rocky Boiman (via Twitter)