LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County's district attorney, public defender and alternate public defender today announced a diversion program in which a judge can dismiss and vacate the arrests, convictions and probation violations of human trafficking victims in misdemeanor or non-serious, non-violent felony cases.
The county's first Human Trafficking Diversion Court program will be launched at the Pomona courthouse, with the hope of implementing it in other areas of Los Angeles County that are plagued by human trafficking, according to a statement released by the District Attorney's Office.
``The purpose of this program is very simple -- to divert victims of human trafficking away from the criminal justice system and into a trauma- informed holistic system of care,'' District Attorney George Gascón said.
``Adults and children alike are forced into human trafficking and become vulnerable and repeatedly exploited.''
The county's top prosecutor said the program will ``prevent criminalization,'' improve public safety and reduce recidivism.
Public Defender Ricardo Garcia called it a ``groundbreaking step in recognizing those impacted by human trafficking as victims and addressing their underlying needs'' instead of being ``victimized by harsh treatment in our criminal legal system.''
The program will be a ``beginning point to transform these young people's lives into something they can be proud of, we can be proud of and our communities can be much safer,'' Garcia said.
Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui called it ``a long-needed program to help people'' that will ``look at the needs of our clients instead of just incarceration.''
Pallavi Garg, the criminal law supervising attorney for the nonprofit organization Free To Thrive that advocates for justice for human trafficking victims, said the court program will be ``a national model.''
Those who are currently or have been identified as human trafficking victims and have any misdemeanor or non-serious, non-violent felony are eligible for the program, for which they will be referred by a defense attorney, prosecutor or local law enforcement agencies, according to the District Attorney's Office.
A judge will approve each participant's suitability for the program and then assign the participant to a community-based organization, through which they will receive services including individual and group counseling, substance abuse and mental health treatment and opportunities to continue their education.
A judge can then dismiss and vacate the person's arrests, convictions and probation violations if they complete the diversion program, according to the District Attorney's Office.