- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) - Kelsey Beaver was arrested in June 2015 on suspicion of having 3 ounces of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

Instead of reaching a plea deal or going to trial, her case was “diverted” out of the court system, and she was given the chance to resolve it through alternative means.

In her case, this meant working with horses for a couple of months - saddling them, riding them and moving them from one corral to another - a new experience that taught her valuable life lessons. In return, her case was dismissed with no conviction.

“I definitely learned my lesson through it all,” Beaver said. “Horses are a good judge of human character and people’s intentions. I feel like you learn something by working with them.”

The diversion program is yet another iteration of alternative justice - holistic approaches that aim to reform offenders and restore the harm caused to victims. Other examples include drug court, behavior court, DUI court and victim-offender mediation, reported the Cortez Journal (https://bit.ly/2eE6ssp).

It also helps alleviate a busy court docket, reduces the number of people being marked with criminal records and helps people set their lives on a less destructive path, said Brian Miller, the diversion program coordinator for the 6th Judicial District, which includes Archuleta, San Juan and La Plata counties.

“It gives them an opportunity to get their charges dismissed, but at the same time, it gets them to look at their actions, take personal responsibility, and gives the community an opportunity to benefit,” Miller said.

About 8 percent of all county court cases are now diverted - about 458 defendants since March 2015.

Types of cases eligible for diversion include those with substance abuse as an underlying cause, for example, a heavily intoxicated individual who walks into the wrong house, or someone who clearly got into a fight while drinking.

Some of the more serious traffic scofflaws also are eligible. For example, people ticketed for careless or reckless driving, or driving 20 mph over the speed limit.

Possible remedies run the gamut, tailored to fit the individual, which can include substance-abuse counseling, equine therapy, anger-management or domestic-violence classes.

In Beaver’s case, she was driving under the influence of marijuana. Deputies searched her car and found 3 ounces of pot, a scale and drug paraphernalia. She was 19 at the time, so she wasn’t allowed to possess any marijuana, let alone 3 ounces.

“It was the first time I had been in trouble,” Beaver said. “They asked me if I would be willing to work with horses, and I was like, ‘Sure, I haven’t really done that a lot,’ and they said, ‘Well, then, it will be perfect.’”

She agreed to work with Ron Tyner, owner of Cadence Therapeutic Riding and TherEx, which offers equine therapy to those suffering from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual problems. Equine therapy has also proven benefits for those struggling with addiction recovery, anger management and bullying.

“I spend some time just talking to them, figuring out what is important to them and the things they’re struggling with,” Tyner said.

He then puts together a program that might benefit them. If someone has low self-esteem, he might ask that person to move horses from one part of the ranch to another, and see if they can follow a plan or alter it if necessary. Clients quickly learn to take charge of the situation or risk having a “1,200-pound boss,” he said.

During these exercises, he tries to impart a life lesson, for example: Show them that it’s possible to have fun while following the rules.

Kelsey was fabulous,” Tyner said. “She wants to learn. She wants to straighten her life out. It’s really rewarding to work with those type of people.”

Diversion clients pay $50 per month to cover administrative costs. Otherwise, most services related to the program are covered by a state grant.

District Attorney Todd Risberg said most offenders in county court are decent people who made a bad mistake. There’s no point clogging the court system and marking them with criminal records when those cases can be dealt with by the District Attorney’s office, he said.

“It’s easy to over-treat and over-supervise people,” he said of court-ordered requirements. “We want to keep appropriate people out of the criminal system, because there’s a fair chance of making things worse.”

___

Information from: Cortez Journal, https://www.cortezjournal.com/


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