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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

New plan offers program instead of prison

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall announced a drug treatment program that serves as an alternative to prison at a press conference held yesterday.  

LaWall stated that the District Attorney’s Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison, or DTAP, can offer a cost-effective way to ease the drug problems in the community.

“”Thirty percent of the crimes that are reviewed in Pima County Superior Court are drug and drug-related crimes. That, unfortunately, is almost three times the national average,”” LaWall said.

Due to high conviction rates, high costs and a cycle of repeat offenders being continually incarcerated, the new program will offer a residential treatment for 30 to 90 days to help those convicted change their lifestyles.

“”With our very different perspectives of this problem that we all share is a deep and abiding concern for the terrible cost, not just financial, although that’s got front and central attention this year … it’s especially about the human costs,”” said Jan Kearney, presiding judge of the Pima County Superior Court. “”I think this is just a remarkable achievement.””

According to LaWall, the Pima County Attorney’s Office prosecuted more than 5,500 felony criminal drug charges last year. That is a 171 percent increase over the last eight years. The National Drug Threat Assessment reports that more than 1.4 million kilograms of drugs come through the U.S. every year. The Border Patrol and Drug Enforcement Agency have said 50 to 60 percent of that makes its way through Pima County at some point.

“”This doesn’t begin to depict the magnitude of the public safety and treatment problems that emanate through what I call a drug-saturated environment,”” LaWall said.

She explained that many people, who would normally be leading regular tax-paying lives, kept returning to the courts and booked into jail because they were trapped in a “”cycle,”” due to their drug addiction.

“”There is nothing, I will tell you from experience, more discouraging as a judge, than seeing a young person come through your court for the second or third time, and you look him in the eye and you know unless you send him to prison for a long time you’re going see him again and again,”” Kearney said.

LaWall’s program was inspired by a similar system that was started in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1990. In 2009, LaWall put together a group of Pima County’s criminal justice system’s leaders to install this same kind of prosecutor-led program. DTAP came to Pima County when they received a $1,117,564 grant on Sept. 30. It is currently the only program of its kind in Arizona, and one of only 28 drug court expansion programs in the country.

“”It doesn’t happen very often that I say some nice things about the County Attorney’s Office,”” joked Robert Hirsh, Pima County’s public defender. “”I’m very proud. I think this is a monumental step forward.””

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