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Non-Violent Criminal Offenders Given Second Chance In Sebastian County

SEBASTIAN COUNTY (KFSM)--There's a new movement across the country that is looking for different ways to address non-violent criminal offenses.

The District Court of Fort Smith has begun offering alternative sentencing programs.

The goal is to lower the demand for jail space and change the lives of people for the better.

Theresa Hacker says for more than 20 years she's battled personal issues that interfered with her life.

"I turned to alcohol and drugs. Anything to self-medicate," said Hacker.

After Hacker was arrested for public intoxication, she was given the option to go through an alternative sentencing program, and she took it.

"You don't realize what your life is like, how good it is until you actually get clean. You stay that way, you want to be that way. It's a wonderful feeling," said Hacker.

Non-violent criminal offenders are given two options: the first is to go through addiction treatment at Harbor House. If they don't want to, they can take adult education classes that will help them develop skills and prepare for job opportunities.

"For those that stay in the program, they're given the opportunity to get on a better pathway and become more productive citizens. It's a win for the individual as well as the system," said Sebastian County District Judge Gunner DeLay.

It also means either a reduction or removal of jail time plus no additional costs to participants, the court, or taxpayers.

Kevin Cochran chose not to go through the program the first time he was arrested for public intoxication, but the second time he did and says it's a good thing.

"I'm just praying to God every day that just you know, I got a good job, I've got everything going for me. I'm recreating my life, and everything's going great so far," said Cochran.

So far almost 400 people have entered the program with 170 still in it, almost 170 removed, and 45 completed and graduated.

Sebastian County will also be starting DWI court for second- or third-time offenders.

If they complete the 6-to-8 month program at the harbor house, then they don't have to serve any jail time.

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