Diversion program aims to help offenders in Fort Smith

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FORT SMITH — A brand new program has opened within the River Valley that’s meant to deal with underlying points that trigger folks to commit sure misdemeanors and reoffend.

The Fort Smith Police Division and the Fort Smith-based nonprofit behavioral well being company Harbor Home Inc. launched the Fort Smith Pre-Arrest Diversion Program on Nov. 9. This system is designed to cut back recidivism and permit these in must get assist, with the Police Division saying that it provides cops the discretion of diverting those that commit eligible, minor misdemeanor offenses away from the prison justice system.

Daniel Grubbs, captain within the Police Division’s uniform patrol division, described this system because the “evolution of police work.”

“It is not all the time about punishment,” Grubbs stated. “It is about figuring out what an underlying trigger is, and well being professionals, us as professionals, have mainly come to phrases that lots of petty thefts or drug utilization — lots of minor, low-level, misdemeanor-type crimes — are pushed by both some kind of habit or another kind of problem.”

“So a diversion program is what’s actually higher for the individual that’s committing these kind of low-level crimes. You already know, does this individual want remedy, or is there one other means to get them assist to unravel this downside to the place they don’t proceed doing sure crimes like that?”

Ashley Reynolds, court docket and diversion coordinator for Harbor Home, stated the addressing of underlying points is why this program has been profitable elsewhere within the nation.

“We’re not simply … giving [somebody] fines, or throwing them in jail or jail,” Reynolds stated. “We’re addressing the underlying points, why they offended within the first place. That is the best way to essentially scale back recidivism as a result of the information’s out. Incarceration just isn’t a deterrent when there’s substance abuse problems or psychological well being problems which are the underlying problem. It is simply not doing something however resulting in an overworked prison justice system, and it is ruining peoples’ lives.”

This system, Grubbs stated, is basically a device that Fort Smith cops can use at any time when they need. They aren’t mandated to make use of it, however they’ve the choice to make use of it on a case-by-case foundation, with people with the ability to select whether or not to take part in it as effectively.

Grubbs stated that if an officer finds somebody committing one of many eligible offenses, then the officer could conclude afterward that some underlying problem, corresponding to habit, could also be inflicting the individual to do it. If that occurs, supplied the suspect meets sure necessities and is prepared to undergo with this system, then the officer might perform the suitable report as normal but in addition give the suspect a referral kind and the sufferer a waiver to offer their approval for the division and Harbor Home to attempt to assist.

“After which we full all of the experiences like we usually do,” Grubbs stated. “We submit one thing, we electronic mail Harbor Home to allow them to know: ‘Hey, we encountered an individual. This is the circumstances. They need to be reaching out to you inside 72 hours.'”

“And in the event that they proceed with the remedy, then we permit them to, hopefully, higher their life, and we transfer on and we filter that case. If they do not, [Harbor House] will electronic mail us again and tell us this individual didn’t, after which we proceed with fees.”

To be eligible for diversion by way of this system, people need to be 18 years of age or older, not in danger to themselves or others, don’t have any prior sexual or violent offenses, and have dedicated a sure misdemeanor offense, in accordance with a Police Division information launch. This contains possession of marijuana paraphernalia, disorderly conduct, misdemeanor possession of marijuana, misdemeanor prison trespass, misdemeanor theft of property, misdemeanor prison mischief, minor in possession of alcohol and solicitation of prostitution.

Reynolds stated that, relying on the wants of the diverted individual, Harbor Home can present psychological well being, substance abuse and behavioral well being remedy. It desires to focus on to the particular offense.

Among the many group’s sources in Fort Smith are a residential remedy heart to deal with substance abuse-related points and a behavioral well being clinic, with it additionally offering outpatient providers. This may all come without charge to the participant.

This program, in accordance with Reynolds, would usually final for 90 days.

“We even have applications with Fort Smith District Court docket, the group court docket program, and so that may typically be as much as 16 weeks,” Reynolds stated. “We work with [the Division of Community Correction] with probation and parole, and that may be as much as 16 weeks. However we wished to make this slightly bit shorter of a program, and once they would join with us, we get them linked with a restoration coach, who’s a substance abuse counselor … and we assist them change life instructions.”

Nonetheless, regardless of this system being in place for greater than a month, Grubbs stated the Police Division had not diverted anybody by way of it as of Dec. 18. He stated that when the continued covid-19 pandemic started hitting the realm, the division devised an operation plan on methods to proceed. It needed to reduce contacts and arrests because the case numbers went up.

“So even in lots of circumstances, if an individual or if fees might be filed at a later date, we usually … would acquire warrants,” Grubbs stated. “If it was any individual that was violent, that wanted to be arrested at the moment, we’d do it, however we restricted arrests to solely these which are completely needed. So simply sort of throughout the board, we’re virtually in an ongoing diversion program as a result of we’re dealing with a pandemic that no one that is alive has witnessed.”

Grubbs stated that though this system is one thing new that the division can use, it has not but completed so “simply by the sheer advantage of present local weather.” The division is hoping that “some kind of normalcy” will happen that can convey extra circumstances for it to make use of this system.

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