NY Lawmakers Seek Funds For Treatment And Diversion Programs

By Paul Gaita 03/23/17

Lawmakers are re-introducing a bill which would send low-level offenders with drug charges to community-based services instead of jail.

Mayor Rob Rolison
Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison Photo via YouTube

A trio of New York state, county and city officials are seeking to curb the drug trade and its impact on their region, by re-introducing a bill that would allow police and prosecutors to direct drug offenders to treatment instead of prison.

Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) was joined by Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Dutchess County District Attorney Bill Grady and Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison on March 20 to re-introduce the Keeping Communities Safe Through Treatment Act, which would aid law enforcement agencies with creating pre-booking diversion programs, developed with local drug treatment programs, which would send low-level drug offenders to community-based services instead of jail.

If the act passes, the programs would be funded through grants from the Department of Justice, which Dutchess County would be eligible to receive due to its status as a high-intensity drug trafficking area (HIDTA).

Mayor Rolison, a former police officer with the town of Poughkeepsie, said the act would provide necessary resources to break the cycle of addiction and crime that fills jails with low-level offenders, only to put them back on the streets without any sort of treatment to keep them from returning.

"There were many times when I said, 'Why am I seeing this same person again? Why is this person committing a crime?'" said the mayor. "Whether it's low-level, whether it's a felony—what is the underlying reason? Back then, we didn't have the tools to deal with it. Our job was to hold someone accountable and get them in the criminal justice system."

As Maloney noted, the Keeping Communities Safe Act would provide police with opportunities outside of that model to assist drug users and in turn, keep crime levels lower in their community.

"There is no silver bullet solution," he said. "But working together with County Executive Molinaro, Mayor Rolison, our local law enforcement, prosecutors, and community leaders, we can make sure those on the front lines have the support they need to expand prevention and treatment efforts, get drugs off our streets, and keep our children safe."

Dutchess County has already enacted several measures to re-focus police and prosecutorial efforts on prevention and diversion of drug users. In February, the county opened the state's first stabilization center, which allows voluntary individual walk-ins or police drop-offs to receive counseling and outpatient services for individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues.

County police have also received Crisis Intervention Training on how to properly handle drug users and those suffering from mental health problems.

"We want to fight this terrible epidemic with treatment that makes sense," said Maloney. "We want to listen to our law enforcement officers when they tell us that criminal prosecution should be reserved for the real criminals. For the addicts themselves, there is a better way forward."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.