New path forward: Diversion program focuses on behavioral health services over jail

  • Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kori Weinberger, left, Department of Health Hawaii County Forensic Section Supervisor Dr. Hawken Shields, program graduate Sean Jacobs, Jail Diversion Case Manager Gail Werner and Kona District Court Judge Margaret Masunaga at Wednesday's graduation ceremony. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today Kona District Court Judge Margaret Masunaga presents Jail Diversion Program participant Sean Jacobs with a certificate of completion at Wednesday's graduation ceremony.

KAILUA-KONA — The first graduate this year from a Jail Diversion program that offers offenders a new path in life was praised for his success in following through with the plan.

Sean Jacobs graduated Wednesday from the program that helps participants involved in non-violent crimes avoid jail by voluntarily enrolling in community-based behavioral health services and programs.

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“He has done an amazing job,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kori Weinberger before entering a motion to dismiss his cases in Kona District Court.

The program is a collaboration of different agencies and the judiciary to guide participants through the initiative.

The Public Defender, Prosecuting Attorney, Pretrial Services, West Hawaii Community Mental Health Center case manager and Department of Health work with District Court Judge Margaret Masunaga to keep participants out of jail and on the path to a new life.

Typical cases eligible for the program include charges of failure to appear, contempt of court, remaining in a park after closing hours, criminal trespassing, shoplifting, criminal property damage and driving without a license, all petty misdemeanors.

“Prompt screening and evaluation has been a key component of the program,” said Masunaga. “Hawaii Intake Service Center makes referrals based on cellblock interviews and Adult Mental Health does the eligibility screening.”

The information is available at the first appearance during which the prosecutor can agree to a supervised release of the defendant as a participant in the program, she added.

Jacobs waived his right to a speedy trial and appeared in court once a month for status hearings, complying with program requirements.

“I am so proud of you and happy for you,” Masunaga said at the graduation.

Jacobs said he recalled spending three or more nights in the Kona Police Station cellblock when case manager Gail Werner came to see him and explained the Jail Diversion Program.

After being accepted into the program Jacobs attended the Kona Paradise Club, a member-driven psychosocial rehabilitation program for adults who experience the challenges of mental illness, five days a week.

He said he felt a great sense of relief having all of his charges dropped and is looking forward to the next chapter of his life.

“I would like to find work in the future,” he said. “Maybe go back to school.”

Even Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald sent a message to the graduate.

“Congratulations Sean Jacobs as the first participant in 2020 to complete the jail Diversion program,” he said. “Mahalo nui loa to Kori Weinberger, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Ann Datta, Kona Supervising Public Defender, Gail Warner, Case Manager/Jail Diversion, West Hawaii Community Mental Health Center, Dr. Hawken Shields, Department of Health, Jill Akuna and Judge Margaret Masunaga who made this program a success on Hawaii Island.”

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Once a participant successfully completes the six-month program, charges are dismissed and they receive a certificate of completion.

“I feel great,” said Jacobs after his graduation.

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