HILLSBOROUGH, COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren has launched a new program aimed at preventing crime and stopping recidivism.
After a six-month pilot phase, on Thursday, Warren officially announced the Drug Education and Treatment Reducing Recidivism, or DETRR. Warren labels it as a first-of-its-kind program and not only in Hillsborough County.
"The goal of being and the expectation that other jurisdictions across the country are going to see what we are doing and copy off what we’ve created," said Warren.
DETRR gives low-risk drug offenders, who are accused of no other serious crimes, a second chance to avoid repeat drug use and jail time.
After serving eight years in the Marine Corps, Chris Harmon found himself addicted and arrested.
“I was in a bad place mentally and spiritually," said Harmon.
Harmon is now sober and mentors others like him thanks to a similar program.
“All you really need is a chance to make your life better and to turn things around, to do a 180," he said.
It’s a tiered system. Most offenders, who qualify, have to complete a substance abuse treatment program.
“It makes treatment, not punishment the first stop for people who are addicted to drugs and arrested only for drug possession," said Warren.
Offenders must stay arrest-free for six months to have their drug possession charges dismissed.
The State Attorney's Office provided a summary of the three levels:
Level 1 – Marijuana / Cannabis Possession (30 grams or less)
- Defendants must remain arrest-free for six months and will be encouraged to take part in substance abuse treatment. Defendants get only one opportunity to take part in Level 1.
Level 2 – First-Time Drug Possession (other than 30 g or less of marijuana)
- Defendants must remain arrest-free for six months and must take part in substance abuse treatment or drug education. Defendants get only one opportunity to take part in Level 2.
Level 3 – Low-Risk Repeat Offender
- Defendants must be assessed as a low risk to reoffend. They can be sent to the full Drug Court program or must remain arrest-free for six months and must take part in a full range of treatment, which may include substance abuse and mental health treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and social services. Defendants get only one opportunity to take part in Level 3.
Warren, who is up for re-election, says DETRR has the potential to impact nearly 9,000 standalone drug cases a year.
“If we want to break the cycle of arrests, crime and incarceration we need to think of crime as a problem to solve not just as a person to punish," said Warren.
He expects the program will also free up the high-volume drug court to only those who are at most risk to re-offend.
Mike Perotti, who is running against Warren for state attorney isn't impressed with DETRR.
"It is clearly election time, because why else would someone take the time to repackage, rename and push out as a 'bold new program' a drug diversion policy that was long ago issued as a standard SAO policy (not as a “pilot program” but as a clear directive to the assistant state attorneys in the office)," he said in a statement. "It’s unfortunate that my opponent would decide to give the impression this is something new or newsworthy."
You can read Perotti's full statement below:
In theory there is absolutely nothing wrong with the premise. Our friends, neighbors, colleagues and community members with addiction issues need treatment not incarceration. This is not a new or novel premise and I would absolutely maintain meaningful and effective diversion programs for folks with drug issues, mental health issues, our veterans and juveniles.
The concerns, as I have expressed repeatedly, is not the existence of a diversion program but 1) the legitimacy of the substantive treatment or resources behind the diversion effort; and 2) who is being diverted. Currently the efficacy of the “treatment efforts” is suspect and the follow up by the State Attorney’s Office “SAO” to ensure compliance is nearly nonexistent. So, in many cases, the diversion is simply a side door exit from the system to nothing of substance with no follow up. In addition, and perhaps more problematic, under the guise of pushing treatment over criminalization (which sounds nice) actual known drug dealers are walking free with unfortunate frequency. I can advise you from my first hand knowledge after reviewing countless narcotics cases over the past 2 years, under Andrew Warren’s leadership, drug dealers (some with past prison sentences, violent felonies and firearms charges), have had their charges dropped and/or reduced and are put right back on the street and in some cases individuals are now dead because of it. While those cases may not have been directly connected to or eligible for this diversion effort, what we see is a prevailing philosophy against accountability under the veil of rehabilitation.
Finally, it is clearly election time, because why else would someone take the time to repackage, rename and push out as a “bold new program” a drug diversion policy that was long ago issued as a standard SAO policy (not as a “pilot program” but as a clear directive to the assistant state attorneys in the office). It’s unfortunate that my opponent would decide to give the impression this is something new or newsworthy.