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State’s Attorney Alvarez announces sweeping reforms to Cook County drug policies
Cook County State's Attorney's Office Press Release
State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez today announced the implementation of a first-of-its-kind drug policy in Cook County that will seek to keep nonviolent low level repeat drug offenders out of the criminal justice system and steer more individuals to treatment rather than traditional prosecution at the front end of the system.
Under the new policy, the State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute most cases of misdemeanor cannabis possession and will divert Class 4 felony cannabis possession and other Class 4 controlled substance offenders to alternative programs, including a newly created drug deferred prosecution program. In addition, the State’s Attorney’s Office will lead the creation of a street-level diversion program for juveniles that will refer low-level juvenile drug offenders to community-based organizations for drug education and mentorship.
The groundbreaking policy changes are the result of an in-depth analysis conducted by the State’s Attorney’s Office over the last year that examined and evaluated the screening and prosecution of drug cases as well as cost effectiveness and system outcomes. The review also included evaluation of the drug policies of other major prosecutors’ offices around the country.
“The methods in which we are handling low level drug cases here in Cook County are simply not working. Under our current policies and practices, we continue to see the same individuals revolving in and out of our criminal justice system with no meaningful impact or outcome and at a significant cost to taxpayers,” Alvarez said.
“While our financial resources are shrinking in Cook County, violent crime is not. These policy changes will enable us to reallocate our resources away from offenders who are non-violent and have a drug addiction toward fighting violent crime such as drug trafficking, illegal guns and gangs.”
In 2014, Class 4 felony drug possession cases accounted for close to 25 percent or 10,000 of the nearly 40,000 felony cases that were handled by the State’s Attorney’s Office. In addition to that number, there were more than 15,000 misdemeanor possession of cannabis cases that came into the system last year.
Under the first component of the new policy, the State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer proceed with misdemeanor charges for possession of under 30 grams of cannabis for individuals who have less than three arrests or municipal citations for similar charges.
Individuals with three or more arrests or citations for these charges will be referred to the State’s Attorney’s existing Drug School Program and will have their case dismissed once the requirements of that program are met.
Under the second element of the policy, all offenders charged with Class 4 felony charges of Possession of a Controlled Substance or Possession of Cannabis, except for those with significant violence in their criminal backgrounds, will be routed to an alternative prosecution program including the newly created Drug Deferred Prosecution Program (DDPP).
The DDPP Program is specifically designed for low-level repeat drug offenders that fall within the Class 4 felony drug possession range and will link these offenders with treatment and other social services. Charges eligible for this program will not only include cannabis possession, but also Class 4 felony possession of other recreational drugs such as heroin and cocaine. And in an effort to target offenders just entering the criminal justice system, defendants will be identified for the program at bond court, which is the earliest stage that the State’s Attorney’s Office comes into contact with these cases.
As part of the policy initiative, State’s Attorney Alvarez also announced that her office will formalize what has been an ongoing policy of not proceeding with charges against juvenile offenders for the possession of under 30 grams of cannabis and those who have fewer than three arrests or police contacts for similar charges. Instead, the State’s Attorney’s Office will work closely with the Chicago Police Department and community-based organizations to create and implement a juvenile-specific version of Seattle’s successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program.
This street-level diversion program will seek to refer juvenile low-level drug offenders to a community-based organization for drug education and mentorship. Instead of exposing the offender to the juvenile court system, the program will provide them with a source of support and counseling within their own communities.
“I believe that these policy changes will be crucial in addressing the drug epidemic here in Cook County as a public health issue by ensuring that low-level drug offenders will be kept out of the system and provided with linkage to necessary treatment and services,” Alvarez said.
“With the implementation of this new policy, I firmly believe that we are in the position to create a sea change in Cook County’s approach to dealing with low level drug crimes and non-violent repeat drug offenders.”