Dinvaut expresses excitement for those who earn 2nd chance

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, September 2, 2015

LAPLACE — The St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney’s office is giving a group of individuals a second chance at a better life.

The D.A.’s Opportunity Now program is a collaboration between the District Attorney’s office, Louisiana Workforce Commission and Louisiana Rehabilitation Services. The three-month program provides work readiness, life skills, job placement and other self-sufficiency services to individuals who have entered the legal system but want to avoid a conviction.

D.A. Bridget Dinvaut talks to Opportunity Now participants Valencia Bradley, Maria Miranda and Danny Carlin Sr. before the graduation.

D.A. Bridget Dinvaut talks to Opportunity Now participants Valencia Bradley, Maria Miranda and Danny Carlin Sr. before the graduation.

Darryl Isom, intergovernmental affairs and public affairs liaison for the D.A.’s office, said those in the program have a chance to avoid a criminal conviction and are non-violent offenders.

“The participants have prior crimes that they have committed,” Isom said.

“They won’t be charged if they complete the program.”

District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut said those participating have been referred from the lead attorneys or investigators of the felony court divisions based upon criminal histories, culpability in the offense charged, nature of the crime, non-violent conduct and willingness to earn a second chance.

“The goal is to provide individuals with an opportunity to become productive citizens through education and training curriculum designed to improve their readiness for the ever-changing workforce,” Dinvaut said.

Participants have obligations to the District Attorney’s office, the Opportunity Now Program and St. John the Baptist Parish, and they must be in direct compliance with the Diversion Contract Agreement and conditions.

Participants are taught about anger management, conflict resolution, positive decision-making, victim awareness, victim restitution and job readiness and productive citizenship, Dinvaut said.

“We took extreme efforts in deciding who would participate in this program, and I’m happy to say I’m proud of the participants and the work that they’ve done,” Dinvaut said.

The courses participants take are designed to help them accept their mistakes, make better choices and prepare them to find and maintain employment.

“I’m rarely this excited about something,” Dinvaut said. “An opportunity to help people turn the page on a bad direction, to give them an opportunity to be productive citizens, and to re-direct them from incarceration is exciting.”

Dinvaut said she feels the program is important for many reasons, like prison overcrowding and the cost of incarceration.

“We’ve heard the old adage ‘it takes a village,’” Dinvaut said. “You’ve got to reach out a hand to help somebody, give them the tools in their tool box, give them a chance that maybe they didn’t have before.”

The program’s first graduating class was honored in a ceremony Thursday at Bot’s Place in LaPlace. According to Dinvaut, there were originally 17 participants enrolled, but two were terminated and returned to the court docket for prosecution for non-compliance with their obligations under the Diversion Contract Agreement.

Out of the program’s 15 graduates, Dinvaut said 12 are gainfully employed and the other three are in the process of getting jobs.

During the graduation ceremony, a number of participants came to the microphone and told the crowd what the program meant to them.

“Words can not express the transformation that I saw in myself, as well as the rest of the group. I watched caterpillars turn into butterflies,” graduate Valencia Bradley said. “You have no idea how broken I was on the inside, and this whole process has humbled me.”

Bradley said she felt tremendous gratitude for everyone involved.

“I do a lot of things, for my family and for my children, but this is the one thing that helped me personally and I thank each and every one of you,” Bradley said.

Even though the 15 participants have passed the education portion, they are not officially done with the program.

“I will be watching them, they still have a year with me,” Dinvaut said. “This is not the end, this is the beginning of a brand new life. That is what I’m hoping for each one of them.”

-Raquel Derganz Baker