A new drug diversion program was announced yesterday in Portland, The Oregonian reports. Police will be allowed to send low-level drug offenders to treatment instead of to jail. The intent is to keep such offenders from repeat trips to jail, while also reducing the wide disparity of African Americans and other minorities from recommitting drug crimes, officials say. If a participant relapses into drug use, it’s not necessarily a trip to a county lockup. They’re given a second chance as long as they show signs of progress toward recovery.
Officials unveiled details of the one-year pilot program in a news conference with the county’s top prosecutor and public defender along with Mayor Ted Wheeler and others. Multnomah County will provide an $800,000 budget administered by Central City Concern, a nonprofit that serves the homeless. Officials believe up to 500 people would be eligible. “Many will be homeless,” said District Attorney Rod Underhill. “Some will have mental-health related issues or come from abusive homes or relationships.” The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program began in Seattle in 2011. In addition to Oregon and Washington, it will also operate in New Mexico, New York, West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina in 2017. A handful of other cities and counties plan to launch programs this year, and another 39 have explored or are developing programs. A 2015 evaluation by the University of Washington shows that program participants in Seattle’s King County were 60 percent less likely to return to jail within six months when compared to others arrested for the same crime.