Dallas judge's new program gives first-time offenders a second chance

With thousands of misdemeanor family violence cases waiting for justice in Dallas County, one judge is testing a pilot program she hopes will intercept family violence and help cut the time for first time offenders' cases to be tried.

Judge Shequitta Kelly presides over one of two misdemeanor family violence courts in Dallas. In her court alone, 900 cases are pending, and that many more have been filed against people not yet arrested.

It can take a year for a case to come to court.

 “It becomes injustice. That’s what happens if you have a victim who has been injured who can’t have her voice heard for over a year, or you have an offender who is not being held accountable for over a year, or is sitting in jail waiting to be heard,” said Kelly. “While he's sitting in jail, guess who's paying for it?”

The judge researched the cases that came through her court last year and found the offenders. She found 60 percent of them were unemployed, 70 percent of them were minorities and 80 percent of them were men.

To try and impact the numbers she found, Kelly is testing a new program she created called ‘Intercept.’

Here's how it works:  First time offenders would be enrolled in a nine-month program that includes mental health attention if needed and substance abuse treatment. They also must get a GED if they don’t have high school education, find employment and then will be assigned a mentor.

“These are mentors who came from some place hard, who came from the hood, who were facing charges and somehow someone intervened and gave them a second chance,” explained Kelly.

The judge hopes the offenders in the pilot Intercept program will make the most of their second chance.

Judge Kelly will track the people in the pilot program. If it proves to be successful, she says she will ask the state to fund and expand her ‘Intercept’ program.