Alternative sentencing deemed a success

Published 9:50 am Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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A diversion program for young offenders is offering another chance at a successful life without incarceration in southside Virginia.

According to a press release, “Dr. Alfonzo Seward, coordinator of the Diversion Program at Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), recently announced the success of the local program.” The release went on to explain that during the spring several individuals graduated from the program earning a variety of workforce credentials as well as completing the GED (General Education Degree) program. The next cohort class is scheduled to begin in spring of 2020.

Designed to provide alternative sentencing, the first class began in October 2016. SVCC worked in partnership with local commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices to include Brunswick, Greensville, Mecklenburg and Lunenburg counties.

The youthful offenders that enter the program face incarceration in either jail or prison due to a crime that they have committed and to which they have subsequently pleaded guilty. The program serves as an alternative to incarceration and/or a felony conviction and includes a requirement of participation in group and/or individual community service projects.

Additionally, the program requires participants to be drug free, verified through drug screenings, and of good behavior.

While serving as an adviser to SVCC’s Administration of Justice Program, Lezlie Green, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Brunswick County, presented the idea to Seward, who heads the Administration of Justice program at SVCC. Both Green and Seward throughout their years in law enforcement recognized an unmet need for alternative sentencing programs in southside Virginia. They joined forces with Monica McMillan, who at the time was a caseworker with Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Out of School Youth Program (WIOA) and Linda Macklin, caseworker for Southside Community Corrections to develop a program that was approved by the college’s administration and has been accepted as a sentencing alternative by both the local judiciary and defense bar.

The program is designed to follow a paramilitary format during the initial semester. The semester begins with a cohort of offenders meeting three nights a week in two different courses. These courses are designed to improve life skills, academic skills and overall behavior. The concept of the program is to provide individuals who fit the criteria with opportunity to gain the necessary skills to attain employment and deal with the stressors of life, so that they can become successful citizens.

The program operates through grant funded assistance and donations to the SVCC Foundation, Inc. For more information or to make a contribution, call (434) 949 1051.