New Cobb district attorney promotes alternatives to prison, criminal record restrictions

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Cobb’s new district attorney is changing how his prosecutors pursue justice.

Flynn Broady, a Democrat who defeated incumbent Republican Joyette Holmes in the Nov. 3 general election, wants nonviolent offenders to get help for their problems instead of sending them to jail.

“Restorative justice” programs allow people charged with certain crimes to take advantage of alternatives to incarceration such as accountability courts that treat substance abuse and mental illness.

Cobb County has four accountability courts overseen by Superior Court judges: drug treatment, mental health, veterans and parental accountability. A DUI accountability court is managed in State Court.

District Attorney Office spokeswoman Kim Isaza said these courts are generally available to non-violent offenders, but each application is reviewed on an individual basis.

“There may be situations where someone charged with domestic violence, for example, is admitted with the consent of the victim,” Isaza said.

Sending defendants through diversion programs instead of prosecuting them, Broady said, can “get their mindset away from criminal behavior” and let them re-enter society as productive citizens.

Broady said his office wants to find a balance between punishment and rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. This is done by emphasizing education, treatment and counseling for non-violent offenders, which can help reduce recidivism and keep communities safe, he said.

Broady, a U.S. Army veteran who spent 26 years in the military, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this does not mean his prosecutors will go soft on violent offenders.

“We are going to do everything we can to prosecute them to the fullest,” he said.

Broady said he’ll work with community organizers to educate young people on the dangers of gangs and other destructive behavior.

Broady’s interest in restorative justice programs stems from his involvement with the county’s Veterans Accountability and Treatment Court. when he became its coordinator in 2014. In 2017, he was the prosecuting attorney for Cobb’s DUI Accountability Court, which offers treatment to offenders who take responsibility for their actions and agree to seek treatment for substance abuse issues.

A criminal record can impede a person’s ability to gain employment, so Broady said his office will partner with the Georgia Justice Project and Cobb’s Circuit Defender’s Office to open a new Expungement Help Desk. Lawyers and volunteers trained by the Justice Project organization will help people who qualify under state law have their criminal records sealed.

The state’s Second Chance Law, which went into effect Jan. 1, allows misdemeanors to be “restricted” as long as the offender doesn’t commit another offense within four years. When restricted, criminal records are not visible to the public, but judges, attorneys and criminal justice agencies can view the offenses.

“This is justice in action,” Broady said in a statement. “Removing barriers that keep nonviolent people from being productive members of society benefits everyone.”

Restorative justice is gaining traction in some places around the country because “the old way hasn’t worked,” Broady said. The traditional practice of arresting and charging someone, who will most likely either plead guilty or be convicted of a crime, and throwing them in prison does not help that person change their behavior, he said.

Matching a defendant with available resources can help that person recognize and avoid the triggers that make criminal activity tempting, he added.

“They can be productive citizens as opposed to someone who has been hampered by the criminal justice system and has to rely on crime to be successful,” Broady said.

A new direction for nonviolent offenders is “long overdue,” said Dr. Ben Williams, president of the Cobb County Southern Leadership Christian Conference.

Williams said alternatives to prison sentences are a good first step in addressing larger problems with the criminal justice system that disproportionally affect minorities, such as the “overcharging” of defendants, high bail amounts and the mindset of prosecutors going into a courtroom with the goal of seeking maximum sentences for crimes.

“I’m encouraged, optimistic, but I recognize that he’s in a space that has really been lagging with respect to justice,” Williams said of Broady.