Even though its launch was delayed by the pandemic, more than 1,000 people have utilized the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office new Felony Diversion Program.
The program provides an alternative to prosecution and potential incarceration for individuals charged with possession of controlled substances and other nonviolent offenses that meet eligibility criteria.
Administered through SAGE Counseling, the new program combines the former Drug Diversion Program and Felony Pre-Trial Intervention Program (FPIP). Its aim is to present a more vigorous treatment option that addresses specific underlying behaviors.
Placement and treatment in the program is distinctive for each individual; curriculum, dosage (hours per week) and program intensity vary per individual, explained Stephen Grams, executive director of SAGE Counseling.
“It’s a very individualized program, based on the initial assessment,” Grams said.
He said the program’s main goal is to reduce recidivism by rehabilitating each individual offender through treating their unique underlying problems with cognitive behavioral intervention and skill development.
Although this program is not mandatory for individuals facing prosecution, over 1,300 have been processed through the new Felony Diversion Program from May to June of this year.
The program was initially planned to start in April but was delayed until May because of the stay-at-home orders.
Depending on the individual’s risk to reoffend, they are placed into one of six “tracks.” These “tracks” include provisions like drug screenings and relapse prevention programs.
According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, “each track provides a unique evidence-based curriculum, with consideration for the appropriate intensity and duration based upon risk level and specific requirements for successful completion.”
The program length is 10-12 sessions, once a week for low-risk offenders; 20-34 sessions, twice a week for moderate-risk; 25 sessions, twice a week for moderate to very high risk; and 50 sessions for high to very high risk offenders.
The charges are then dropped for offenders who successfully complete the program. Though prosecution will be reinstated for unsuccessful offenders.
The COVID-19 pandemic considerably affected the program, Grams explained.
“First, it delayed the whole start, and that was primarily because the courts did not want to have face-to-face, in-person court hearings,” Grams said.
“And in the traditional setup, the diversion was offered or accepted partly through that court process, so when they weren’t doing face-to-face, they just put all referrals for all the diversion programs we have on hold.”
The Attorney’s Office currently offers eight different diversion programs, with SAGE administering four of them.
Grams, who has been working with the criminal justice populations in 1985 and was a psychotherapist in a maximum security prison in Pittsburgh, founded SAGE in 1998.
“Diversion is a really smart public policy,” said Grams. “It really helps the community to get people out of the criminal justice system much quicker. It gives them treatment that helps them avoid getting in trouble again. It’s very cost-effective, and it increases public safety.”
Headquartered in Mesa, SAGE has offices around the Valley, including a Glendale branch. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Glendale office is not currently open.
For more information, visit sagecounseling.net.