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One is Too Hot, One is Too Cold, Goldilocks Program Finds What is Just Right

September 10, 2019

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One is too hot. One is too cold. And one is just right.

The storybook character who blatantly commits the crime of breaking and entering into a cabin belonging to bears might seem an unlikely muse for a lawyer focused on criminal justice. But the Goldilocks principle helped guide District Attorney John Hummel as he developed a three-tiered initiative that identifies the “just right” intervention for each individual based on their crime.

When Hummel became D.A. for Deschutes County in 2015, he decided to focus on the community’s biggest crime problems. He invited more than 25 local leaders to serve on an advisory group called DeschutesSafe. Over the following year, they identified five crimes that demanded immediate attention: theft, sexual assaults, drugs, assaults, and DUII (driving under the influence of intoxicants). As they dove deep into the data to see what was driving those crimes, they were surprised to discover many had correlations with drug use.

For instance, people arrested for theft were also often arrested for drug possession at some point. So they took it a step further, pulling information from different agencies and conducting a community survey. Drugs came back as a chief concern among Deschutes residents. It also found the community was open to alternatives to incarceration.

The goal is to get as many individuals as possible into the first of three tiers -- the “just right” option.

The tiers are:

Tier 1: Clean Slate. Diversion for people facing a possession of a controlled substance charge. It’s prosecutor initiated and law enforcement implemented with the goals of minimizing justice system responses to possession offense charges and identifying via assessment people with serious substance issues. This encourages them to access services and resources to address their addiction. It’s split into two levels.

In Level I, low-risk offenders are given the opportunity to acknowledge and correct their mistake. Although they’re not required to see a doctor, 25-30 percent do. They must also stay out of trouble for 12 months.

In Level II, participants are required to meet with a primary care doctor and engage in treatment, if recommended. If they’re compliant for 12 months, their case isn’t charged.

Tier 2: Boost. This is traditional prosecution for those not successful in clean slate or those eligible for the program.

Tier 3: Deter. This is enhanced prosecution for the small number of people who’ve made a career of drug distribution and manufacturing.

Back to Tier 1, the diversion tier of Clean Slate starts at the initial contact with law enforcement. Officers inform people suspected of possessing a controlled substance about Clean Slate and refer them to the orientation meeting that occurs every Friday. The meeting is held off-site at a local non-profit’s facility. It’s a safe environment because trust can be an issue.

At the orientation meeting, a representative from the Deschutes County DA ‘s Office explains the Clean Slate program. Those who participate sign a release of information agreement; they meet with a public defender; and their need for substance abuse treatment is assessed by a certified counselor. Based on the results, participants are placed in Clean Slate Level I or Level II. The counselor also administers tests to better understand participants’ personal histories and needs.

Appointments are made for all Level II participants with a primary care provider. They’re required to attend it and comply with their treatment plan, which is developed by the doctor. Twelve months after the initial appointment, the doctor completes a final compliance assessment. If the participant has been compliant and hasn’t been arrested again, the case is dismissed. If the case was charged, the record is expunged. 

So, why is the Goldilocks Program so important? “There are a lot of unintended consequences that come with an arrest record, explains Kathleen Meehan Coop, management analyst for DeschutesSafe.

“Many participants are under age 35. We don’t want a bad decision to negatively impact them for the rest of their life. Some people need treatment and are ready for it. Others just made a bad decision.”

The program is currently under evaluation. “It’s a fairly low-cost program that we hope will have big impacts on the community,” Meehan Coop says.

Goldilocks Program was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.

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Mark Powell

J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert. Read more about Mark Powell.