Cook County Drug Policies Reformed: Drug Epidemic to be Addressed as a Public Health Issue
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced changes in the Cook County drug policy, wherein a new, first-of-its-kind drug policy is to be implemented to pave the way for effective reform in the Cook County’s approach to dealing with non-violent drug offenders and low-level drug crimes to keep these offenders from the criminal justice system and towards fostering treatment.
The new drug policy reform allows the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to steer away from traditional prosecution of misdemeanor cannabis possession and into alternative programs that will help more individuals receive treatment for the public health issue of a drug epidemic. As such, Class 4 felony cannabis possession, among other Class 4 controlled substance offenders, will be diverted to the newly created Drug Deferred Prosecution Program and other initiatives made by community-based organizations. Additionally, the State’s Attorney’s Office brings focus to juvenile delinquents by the creation of street-level diversion program that will lead juvenile offenders to drug education and mentorship, which will aid them out of drug use.
“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,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said.
Modifications of the drug policy include two components. The first component states that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer handle and prosecute misdemeanor charges for possession of under 30 grams of cannabis, specific to individuals who only have no more than two arrests or municipal citations of the similar counts.
To account for offenders with three or more arrests or citations for the possession of 30 grams of cannabis and non-violent offenders of Class 4 felony charges of Possession of a Controlled Substance or Possession of Cannabis, the second component of the new policy states that individuals with the aforementioned charges will be referred to the newly created Drug Deferred Prosecution Program (DDPP) of the State’s Attorney’s Office and other alternative initiatives.
State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez claims immense change to Cook County’s drug policy. “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,” State’s Attorney Alvarez said.
The DDPP caters specifically to non-violent and low-level repeat drug offenders with charges under Class 4 felony drug possession range, including offenders with charges under Class 4 felony possession of other recreational drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The goal of this new initiative by the State’s Attorney’s Office is to link the offenders eligible to the program to necessary treatment and other social services. As such, eligible offenders are identified at bond court and prevented from being taken further down the criminal justice, and away from tradition prosecution.
With the new policy initiative, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez will now formalize the ongoing policy regarding juvenile drug offenders, wherein the State’s Attorney’s Office will aim to work closely with the Chicago Police Department and collaborate with community-based organizations to advance a juvenile-specific program derived from the successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program founded by Seattle. In this capacity, juvenile offenders are no longer exposed to the juvenile court system but rather, are provided with a source of support and counseling within their own communities.
Offenders routed to alternative prosecution programs will have a chance to have their case dismissed once the requirements and the whole of the program have been submitted and finished; however, these alternative prosecution programs are only limited to handling cases of offenders with no significant violence in their criminal backgrounds.
Through 2014, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office conducted an in-depth analysis of drug cases, with emphasis on the prosecution process, cost analysis, and system outcomes of these legal matters. As a result, a groundbreaking, innovative policy reform and alternative prosecution programs were developed. Furthermore, some improvements and ramifications to the previous drug policy were patterned from several evaluated existing drug policies of other major State’s Attorney’s Offices across different states in 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,” Cook County Anita Alvarez noted.
Reports from 2014 evaluation of prosecution cases handled by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office revealed that around 10,000 out of 40,000 felony cases were Class 4 felony drug possession cases, which accounted for about a quarter of the total number of felony cases in the County. Furthermore, over 15,000 cases of misdemeanor charges for possession of cannabis were noted to have been submitted to the State’s Attorney’s Office in the previous year alone.
“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,” claimed State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, in acknowledgement of the drug epidemic in the County.
The new street-level diversion program and drug policy reform made by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is a revolutionary measure to address and combat the public health issue that is the drug epidemic within the Cook County, which operates in a way that allows non-violent, low-level drug offenders to receive treatment and recover in order to be able to return to their communities.