By Jack Fink

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DALLAS (CBS11) – After a highly publicized bout with depression and paranoia, Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk has unveiled a new program to help non-violent, mentally ill offenders stay out of jail.

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It’s all part of her new Reformative Justice Unit that also seeks to help young non-violent offenders with a similar program.

The goal is to reduce the recidivism rate by preventing crimes.

At a news conference Monday at the Martin Luther King Center along MLK Junior Blvd., the DA said, “This is a new approach. This goes to preventing crime. It’s not just prosecuting when there is already a new victim or already a new felony case filed.”

The pilot programs will begin in January.

The program for the mentally ill will be called SET for Stabilization Engagement Transition.

25 non-violent mentally ill offenders will be eligible.

Hawk said 30-percent of those in jail have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

As a result, she said her office will be looking at those arrested and processed into the Dallas County jail. “We hope to get a list of these names within hours of book-in and then we can identify these folks and who we can help.”

Ms. Hawk said once identified, the offenders with mental illness will not only have a chance to have criminal charges dropped, but their records cleared.

They must stay out of trouble, and stay in the required 12-18 month long housing and healthcare programs offered by area not for profit organizations.

Among those at the news conference Monday was Torrey Turner.

He said he took all the courage he could muster when he stood up and asked Hawk about the program.

Turner said he suffers from a severe speech impediment and from anxiety.

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In March, 2014, he said he was falsely accused of stealing DVD’s.

While he said he had receipts proving he bought them, he said when he raised his voice, police mistook that for becoming aggressive and he was arrested.  Turner said he lost his job, and hasn’t been able to find a new one. So he said he likes what heard from the DA.

“I love it, I love it. It gives at least the opportunity for the individual to be assessed for something the naked eye could not get,” said Turner.

He said police need to be trained more on how to deal with the mentally ill.

Hawk agreed, “You educate the law enforcement agencies, which is what we’re doing and talk to them and communicate with them.”

Hawk said as a Dallas County Judge, she expanded diversion programs to help non-violent offenders.

When asked if her own experiences with depression played a role in creating the program for the mentally ill, Hawk said, “When you asked me if it was something personal, probably sub-consciously, it was.”

Hawk says another 25 offenders between the ages of 18 and 25 will be eligible for another program called AIM, Achieve Inspire Motivate.

Offenders will have to complete a 6-12 month long program and will need to obtain a GED or a job before their criminal case can be dismissed and cleared.

The DA will also start what’s called CARE, Citizens Against Recidivism.

This group of community members will meet with offenders to help them return to positive lives.

The DA said she hopes to expand the programs. “Mass incarceration has not made us safer. In fact, sending more people to prison has weakened our most at-risk communities by promoting poverty, racial disparity, dividing families, and creating long-term housing and employment issues.”

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