By Mark Powell
Recovery Time, Not Jail Time
Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett didn’t like what he saw. Opioids were moving into his community and touching the lives there, including his closest friends. As a prosecutor, he knew all too well the damage substance misuse causes. Blodgett wanted to address the problem, and he decided to try something different.
He made a commitment to increase public safety not just by prosecuting those charged with a crime, but also by offering treatment rather than prosecution to non-violent offenders with substance use disorders. That was a risky move ten years ago.
Now, over a decade later, the Essex County District Attorney’s Drug Diversion program is still going strong. It offers a second chance to people with dealing with a substance use disorder.
“What’s unique about this program is we’re doing everything we can to catch people at the beginning of the process, at the beginning of the cycle, which we’re trying very desperately to break.” Blodgett says.
The DA’s staff screen eligible participants both before and after arraignment. A variety of factors are considered including the current offense, criminal history and age. When a person is referred to the program a clinical intake and assessment coordinator conducts an interview at the courthouse and addresses immediate safety needs. The case is then assigned to a clinical case manager, who contacts the participant the same day and schedules a case management session. The clinical case manager also serves as liaison among the participant, treatment providers, and the district attorney’s office and oversees the participant’s individual treatment plan.
If a participant successfully complies with the program for at least six months, the DA’s Office will either decline to prosecute or file to dismiss the charges. Compliance involves consistent and confirmed participation in treatment and weekly case management meetings, and sobriety from all illicit, non-prescribed substances and alcohol. Upon completing the program completed, a clinical case manager addresses the participant’s housing, employment and educational needs.
The results? Here’s how one participant who successfully completed the program describes it: ”They all came in when I needed them. To put it lightly, they saved my life, and they still continue to do so. I’m indebted to these people for my success. Without them, my success wouldn’t be my success.”
Essex County Drug Diversion Program was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.