CHICAGO | Illinois state government plans to follow the lead of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for an expanded program allowing people convicted of their first felony offense to fulfill a sentence without facing incarceration.

The state’s attorney’s office already has had a deferred prosecution program that allows nonviolent, first-time offenders a chance to enroll in a one-year diversion program. If they complete that program successfully, the offender can avoid a prison term and can also eventually have the offense expunged from their record.

Gov. Pat Quinn this summer approved a new law allowing state’s attorneys across Illinois to create similar programs for their respective counties.

People wishing to apply for the program must meet requirements including restitution for their crime, holding down a job or performing community service, attending educational classes toward a GED or vocational training, and substance abuse treatment in cases where it is appropriate.

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“I think that prosecutors can play an important role in implementing new alternative sentencing measures like this that not only bring just results, but also provide non-violent offenders with a second chance,” state’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said.

The program has been in place in Cook County for one year.

“We are very proud that the governor and the Illinois Legislature have seen fit to use it as a model for prosecutorial-based diversion programming across the state,” Alvarez said.

During the past year, 645 people have participated in the program, with 257 completing it successfully. County officials say they believe $1.1 million was saved due to reduced court and incarceration costs.

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