Story County receives DOJ grant for drug diversion program

Michael Crumb, Editor

Story County will form a program to divert non-violent offenders with a drug addiction from the criminal justice system in hopes of better interrupting the addiction cycle and increasing community safety, while saving resources that would have otherwise been used to prosecute them in the courts, Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds said Oct 4.

Story County was one of three counties named to share nearly $1.8 million in a Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. The other counties are Black Hawk and Jones, and how the money will be divided wasn’t immediately known, Reynolds said on Friday.

While the grant is focused on opioid addiction, the diversion program could serve a person who has any substance abuse problem.

Whatever amount the county receives, it will be spread out over three years, and will allow for the hiring of a program director, a program case manager and a program treatment professional, who will form part of a drug diversion team in Story County that will also include a member of the Story County Attorney’s Office, and someone from each law enforcement agency in the county. It will be overseen by an all-volunteer advisory board, consisting of Ames Police Chief Chuck Cychosz, Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald, Story County Supervisor Linda Murken, Ames Chamber of Commerce President Dan Culhane, Michelle de La Riva of Community and Family Resources and Linda Hanson from Primary Health Care. The advisory board will meet monthly, Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the diversion team will work closely with offenders daily to increase chances of success.

Potential participants can refer themselves for consideration, or be referred by a family member, a law enforcement office, a member of Reynolds’ office or a defense attorney. The diversion team will then assess the individual’s eligibility, Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she estimates that between 30 and 50 people could be helped by the diversion program.

“If we can identify the appropriate individuals, we can interrupt the addition cycle and change their lives for the better and save their lives, ” she said. “That makes our community safer and it is the right thing to do. We can avoid the costs of the criminal justice system and avoid recidivism.”

Reynolds said the diversion program could save an average of about $8,000 in criminal justice costs per offender.

In the announcement of the grant award, Dale Woolery, director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said the pilot program supported by the grant, “represents a new and promising approach to changing needs involving … addictive substances in Iowa.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds said the grant, “will allow us to develop new forms of early intervention as well as efficiently link those in need of substance disorder treatment with local service providers.”

Reynolds said she’s long been interested in creating a diversion program, and she hopes to prove it can be successful in Story County.

“I have three years of funding, which gives me a chance to assess the success of the program, and then after three years I can reapply for another grant if it’s available, or also seek funding locally. To do that, I’ll have an obligation to make a good argument,” showing the success of the program.

Reynolds said she hopes to launch the program and begin hiring for the three diversion team positions in early 2020.