Tulsa's male diversion program opens first rehabilitation center

TULSA, Okla. -- At this time last year Justin Cathey was bound for jail with trafficking charges.

Instead he was given an opportunity through the First Step Male Diversion Program. Then, five months ago, his girlfriend and co-defendant gave birth to their daughter.

"I grew up in foster care so I didn't want her to have to grow up in there because I know what that's like. I probably lived in like 30 different foster homes," Cathey said.

This year Cathey celebrated Father's Day, one of many firsts.

"I'm gonna go to college in the fall. I've got my own house. I got my first job I ever had in my whole life. I got my first paycheck," he said.

David Phillips started taking men into the program last year after working as a public defender, and is relieved to close on a house this week that will rehabilitate seven participants.

"I would see men come back again and again and again. That was not something I enjoyed as a public defender but it was the reality at the time," he said.

Some of the men will move into the midtown house over the weekend. Founders of the program hope this will foster community, while cutting costs for more opportunities in the years ahead.

"We'll have less young men out there in a desperate situation with drugs and gang membership and peer group relationships that are nothing but trouble for the community," president Bill Kellough said.

New data from Tulsa Police shows crime is down about 10 percent from this time last year. The founders hope as diversion options grow, this trend will continue.

"It helps the tax base. It helps keep families together. It helps to reduce crime, and there are many, many more benefits," Senator Kevin Matthews said.

Matthews plan to approach lawmakers in the next session. The program is currently funded privately. He hopes to find more funding through the department of corrections.

If you're interested in donating to the cause you can visit 1ststepmdp.com.

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