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Maloney, Hanna Announce Bipartisan Bill to Create Pre-Booking Drug Diversion Program

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

New York Congressmen Sean Patrick Maloney and Richard Hanna have announced bipartisan legislation to help  fund pre-booking drug diversion programs in counties designated as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.

The Hudson Valley Democrat and Utica-area Republican say allowing police officers to use their discretion to divert people directly to treatment instead of booking them and processing them through the criminal justice system is a good idea.

In the Northeast, such pre-booking diversion programs are becoming more popular. The bill would create a Department of Justice grant program to fund them.

Representatives Maloney and Hanna cited statistics showing 60 percent of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans tested positive for drugs when they were arrested. Here's Maloney:  "There's almost not a community in the Hudson Valley that has not buried someone. A neighbor, a son or a daughter. The kid who played high school football. The person who was a member of the community and who got into trouble, maybe starting with opioid abuse or prescription drugs, but often ending with heroin. It's killing far too many of our neighbors. And we have to do something about it. The traditional approaches aren't enough."

Hanna says in the last decade there have been more than 600 deaths in his district.  "This hits middle class, upper class, lower class, every spectrum of the economic scale. The methods that we're using to handle this, just to put it lightly, are simply not working."

What is working? Officials say LEAD...  praised by officials like Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Chief Leonard Campanello as an innovative pre-booking diversion program that empowers officers to redirect low-level offenders engaged in criminal activity involving things like prostitution or drugs to community-based services instead of jail and prosecution. Campanello says over nine months his officers have assisted over 400 individuals and the community has seen a significant reduction in crime.   "31 percent is what we're looking at right now. That's shoplifting, smash and grabs, petit larcenies, things like that. We've had a cost reduction of about 75 percent total and 100 percent to the taxpayer. It typically costs us to arrest a low-level offender about $220 if you arrest on a Tuesday night, process them, book them, put 'em in a jail cell, bring 'em to court the next morning, that costs us about $220. That's taxpayer money.  For us to bring a person in, intake them, do the form, get a hold of a center and facilitate transportation to that center, it costs about $55 using asset forfeiture funding, which is no cost to the taxpayer."

Last June, Albany became the third city in the United States, and first in the Northeast, to adopt the LEAD program.  Chief Brendan Cox says the Capital City opted to give officers a "pre-arrest" rather than "pre-booking" plan, a move that paid off in community trust. "What feedback I've gotten is that they appreciate the fact that they now have a tool that they can turn to to deal with these issues. And they didn't have that tool before. Before it was 'the only thing I can do is arrest this person,’ or just choose not to arrest them. And if I choose not to arrest them, I'm just gonna continue to run into this person day after day after day.'"

Chief Campanello says it costs one dollar to treat a person with addiction versus spending seven dollars to incarcerate them. Maloney vows he and Hanna will work hard to get federal funding to support this type of approach.  "We've had 160 percent increase in heroin deaths in Dutchess County alone, one of the counties I represent. We've lost at least 1,300 people in the Hudson Valley over the last few years."

When Albany rolled-out the LEAD program, Dr. Alice Green, director of the Center for Law and Justice, summed up LEAD in a single word: HOPE.  "Hope that we are headed toward social justice where black lives matter, and all lives matter."

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