By Tommy Nguyen
LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón last week unveiled a diversion program for human trafficking victims that aims to improve and restore their lives through a comprehensive set of services.
“Many human trafficking victims feel trapped, helpless, and isolated with no one to trust and nowhere to turn,” District Attorney Gascón said, noting he is hopeful this program would provide the victims with the healing, restoration, and rehabilitation that have been ignored far too long by the criminal justice system.
Elected the 43rd District Attorney of Los Angeles County, Gascón promised a safer neighborhood while pioneering reforms to reduce racial disparities and end mass incarcerations.
District Attorney Gascón was also joined by Public Defender Ricardo Garcia, Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui and others in this collaborative effort of bringing about Los Angeles County Supreme Court’s first Human Trafficking Diversion Court.
“The victims will receive specialized trauma-based care, individual and group counseling for alcohol and substance abuse, mental health treatment, job training, career opportunities, educational and financial planning, resume services, and criminal record clearing,” Public Defender Garcia explained.
Garcia added, “This new Diversion Court understands the unique challenges these victims face and provides an opportunity and tools for a fresh start.”
The Alternate Public Defender Office said the office believes the program would employ “a culturally sensitive, multi-disciplinary approach to address the needs of human trafficking survivors, focusing on treatment and care for this vulnerable population instead of jail.”
So far, the collaborative effort has put into effect a memorandum of understanding that will clear the criminal record of human trafficking victims that stands in the way of employment, housing, and recovery.
Those who are currently or have been identified as human trafficking victims and have any misdemeanor or non-serious, non-violent felony are eligible for the program, the county chief lawyers said, noting participants would then be referred to any defense attorney, prosecutor, or local law enforcement agency.
The victims will be assigned to a community-based facility for treatment after receiving the approval of suitability from a judge. Treatment will cover a host of services, including individual and host counseling, substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as opportunities to continue education.
After the successful completion of the diversionary program, the judge can then dismiss and vacate the human trafficking victim’s arrest, convictions, and probation violations.
The program will be launched at the Pomona courthouse, and hopefully will be implemented in other parts of Los Angeles County plagued by human trafficking, said District Attorney Gascón.