MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Montgomery District Attorney’s Office has launched a new drug diversion program to address addiction and curb recidivism.
When laws were changed to divert non-violent drug offenders from prison, fewer defendants opted to go through drug court to get help for their addiction.
“The numbers for drug court dropped dramatically,” said Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey. “I think in drug court we have 18 people right now - before we had 300 plus.”
The change created a gray area - leaving those with drug offenses and addiction with little supervision and no help. Still, the arrests kept coming and the cases continued to pile up - contributing to around half of the office’s overall caseload.
“We haven’t tackled that problem at all,” Bailey said. “What I’ve come up with is a way to address the addiction quicker. What they are doing is a criminal, but they are doing it because of their addiction.”
The answer: a pretrial diversion program for non-violent drug offenders. They can enter the diversion program the day they are arrested and won’t have to plead guilty. It isn’t limited to first time offenders. The program could take between six months to a year to complete.
“Counselors that contract with our office are retooling their counseling sessions to be able to address addictions,” he explained. “Everything else will remain the same. We will still require them to further their education, still require them to get a job and we will help them with those things.”
Presiding Judge Johnny Hardwick signed off on the program and estimates it will have a sizable impact on the criminal dockets.
“One has to be indicted, appear in court, plead guilty, and make application to pretrial diversion - we are going to eliminate all those steps,” Hardwick said. “They will truly be diverted from the courtroom process.”
He also believes this program offers a more manageable path to overcoming addiction.
“The jails are not equipped to handle drug treatment. Professionals advise that’s not the best setting for drug treatment,” Hardwick stated. “We are trying to get to the root of the problem sooner than later.”
Montgomery’s pretrial diversion program was the first in the state and remains widely successful. Ninety-four percent who graduate never re-offend. When considering nearly every violent crime has some connection to drugs - the impact could be significant.
“Number one, if we can cure that addiction, give them some help on the front end maybe they will be productive citizens, earn a paycheck and provide for their families and stay out of the court system altogether,” Bailey said. “Number two - we will have less crime.”
The Montgomery County sheriff and Montgomery police chief also endorsed the plan. In addition to saving resources for prosecutors and the court, law enforcement will spend less time in court and preparing for grand jury.
“It will be a cost savings for the whole system,” Bailey said.
Those who do not graduate from the program will have their case brought before a grand jury.