Seattle officials work to help young adults avoid criminal records

SEATTLE -- Seattle officials are working to help young people with misdemeanor crimes in the city avoid having a criminal record follow them for the rest of their lives through the Misdemeanor Pre-filing Diversion Project.

On Wednesday, members of the city attorney’s office, organizers with the group Choose 180, and a participant in the Misdemeanor Pre-filing Diversion Project discussed the importance of this program with elected officials.

The program looks to give 18- to 24-year-olds facing misdemeanor charges the chance to clear the record. Participants attend a four-hour seminar. They are also provided with contact information for possible mentors within the community to help them stay on track.

Since September, organizers say more than 140 people have gone through the program.

“My mom used to tell me all the time you are who you hang around,” said Lamaria Pope.

Pope is 21. She went through the program.

Pope says back in October her friend stole something from a store while they were hanging out together.

Pope didn’t say anything, and thought her friend got away with it, that is until the police showed up.

“You’re cuffed, you can’t move your arms; you’re stuck in a cell,” she said.

Pope faced the possibility of a criminal record following her for her life. She says that is when she got a call from a person she had not spoken to in years.

“I was excited and disappointed,” said Sean Goode.

Goode is the executive director of Choose 180, the group the city is working with to give young adults who are facing misdemeanor criminal charges a chance to clear their record.

Goode has worked with dozens of people within the diversion project, but he says Pope was a unique situation.

When Pope was younger, Goode was one of her mentors.

“The life Lamaria has had to live based upon where she was born into and the circumstances she was born into isn’t one anyone would sign up for,” said Goode.

Pope went through Goode’s program. Now, instead of sitting in a cell, she is sitting next to her mentor at Seattle City Hall and talking to elected officials about why this program is so vital.

“I’m almost a hundred percent sure everyone had a desire to change,” she said.

Officials say the program costs about $150,000 a year to operate. However, attorneys for the city say the cost is nominal in comparison to how much it would cost to put these same people through the legal system.