COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein has started a new diversion program specific to individuals charged with misdemeanor theft offenses.

The program, Helping Understand Barriers (HUB), utilizes a screening process to identify the root causes or societal barriers that may have contributed to the individual committing the theft offense.

Klein said the program looks at issues of food insecurity, housing, unemployment, transportation and substance abuse. Rather than send the person to jail, their court case is put on hold while the program works to connect the individual with assistance and a pathway to improve their situation.

“Each individual defendant gets a tailored plan… to treat the underlying reason why that person is before the court,” Klein said.

The defendants will be given pathways to address their needs. Those might include access to food resources, access to mental health or addiction treatment, help with utilities, transportation or employment issues.

It’s a six month program and Klein said if the individual makes significant strides to address their problems the charges will be dismissed. If not, they will be prosecuted.

“There are still bad people that deserve to go to jail for a very long time,” Klein said. “But for the vast majority of individuals, it’s the fact that they’ve fallen on hard times. They need a leg up. They need a helping hand to pull them out of the cycle. The criminal justice system does not always need to be punitive.”

Klein says the program currently has 14 people enrolled and 61 more are going through the screening process for eligibility.