Making Government Work

Santa Fe is Changing the Rules in the War on Drugs

October 22, 2014
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Santa Fe is Changing the Rules in the War on Drugs
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A new initiative in Santa Fe will offer drug treatment support, rather than prison time, to people arrested for low-level drug offenses. Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Treatment, not jail sentences, becomes the priority when all burglaries were committed by someone with an opiate habit.

According to Santa Fe police captain, Jermone Sanchez, cops are “chasing the same people over and over again,” since there’s a repeat cast of opiate addicts committing 100 percent of the city’s burglaries and other property crimes.

So what is the southwest city doing to reduce the number of repeat offenders?

Back in July 2013, the city voted to launch the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (or LEAD).The pilot initiative involves the Santa Fe police department, the district attorney’s office and public defenders, City Hall, various nonprofits and the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico.

Under this progressive program, which is already at work in Seattle, Wash., instead of becoming prisoners, people arrested for low-level drug offenses are given the option of becoming a “client” before they’re booked.

These clients are then assigned a case manager that offers an individualized regimen of not only “drug treatment, but also housing, transportation, and even employment support programs,” according to the Nation. Since initiating the program this April, Santa Fe has enrolled 10 offenders in LEAD.

Interestingly, participants don’t get in trouble for relapsing, and while they can be thrown out of the program, that will only occur if they commit a serious crime, reports the Nation.

Emily Kaltenback, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, first proposed getting addicts into comprehensive treatment instead of constantly cramming up the courts and jail; she’s since won over the collaborative support of the “Santa Fe Police Department, City Hall, nonprofit service providers, the District Attorney’s office, and public defenders.”

Sanchez and Kaltenbach both believe that this program and ones like it are the best chance at overcoming the societal hardships drugs create. It also doesn’t hurt that the Santa Fe Community Foundation also thinks that LEAD could eliminate half of the $1.5 million it currently spends on the drug war.

Already, the City Council pledged to spend $300,000 on the program over the next three years, and new training for police officers begins this month.

The buzz of LEAD has made it to the east coast, too, with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio recently announcing the start of the Public Health Diversion Center to route low-level offenders into treatment, health and welfare services instead of jail.

Safer streets on a lower budget? Count us in.

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