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D.A. Wortham: Lesser crimes can be erased to benefit job seekers, community

The call went out that the District Attorney’s Office wanted 250 people facing the negative impacts of non-violent convictions to reach out for a second chance.

Jefferson County D.A. Bob Wortham got his 250, but they weren’t all non-violent offenders.

“We had people in jail asking for it, people who had committed murder asking for it,” Wortham said. “We can’t do that, we’re not going to do that.”
Wortham related the story Tuesday afternoon when addressing the audience at this week’s Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce Membership Luncheon.

He was describing the Second Chance Program, designed to turn those people struggling with minor criminal issues into more employable job candidates.

Wortham said Jefferson County’s most recent effort highlighted 50 people who will receive volunteer work from defense lawyers and reduced fees from the clerk’s office to clear their records.

“We want people in Jefferson County to be able to get jobs and work,” Wortham said. “That is what makes us strong and better. It’s a system we really want to improve.”

Come January, the district attorney said he would be doing it again.

“So if you know anybody that is like that, tell them to apply,” he said. “The lesser offenses, we want to help you help the public by making it a better place.”

Interested persons can go to SecondChanceSETX.com for an application or more information. The District Attorney’s office can be reached at 409-835-8550.

The Second Chance Program originated as a project by local industry leaders and the Jefferson County Bar Association.

Different factors for qualification include if your case was dismissed or if you received deferred probation. Other qualifications could be if a person went to jail, was found not guilty or entered into a diversion program.

The theme of Wortham’s talk this week in Port Arthur centered on second chances and legal options for those genuinely good citizens who find themselves held back by a singular mistake.

A favorite of his, Wortham also mentioned his office’s DWI program for first-time offenders that do not have a history of law enforcement problems.

Qualifiers who receive a DWI for the first time are offered pre-trial diversion, providing a path to have the DWI removed from their public record.

“If you’re learning from your mistake, then it is really not a mistake — it’s a lesson,” Wortham said. “We’ve been doing that for five years and I dare say we have had less than 10 people that were in the program who violated it.

“I didn’t want to create a situation where local people could not have local jobs.”