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City Attorney, SDPD Launch Program To Steer Drug Offenders To Treatment

The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

Credit: Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott and Police Chief David Nisleit announced a pilot program Wednesday to divert drug-addicted residents and low-level drug offenders to treatment rather than jail.

The Prosecution and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Services, or PLEADS, program offers low-level drug offenders the opportunity to seek treatment for drug addiction rather than incarcerating them. Since the program began a week ago, six residents have opted to seek treatment and San Diego Police Officers have made nine referrals for treatment.

Elliott and Nisleit said the program is aimed at reducing recidivism, which will, in turn, save tax dollars that would be spent prosecuting low-level drug offenders and allow local law enforcement officers to focus on other matters of public safety.

"Instead of perpetually prosecuting individuals who are addicted to drugs, we wanted to help them get to the root of the problem," Elliott said. "PLEADS gives people a chance to escape the revolving door of the criminal justice system, begin their recovery from addiction, and build a better life for themselves."

The county is collaborating with the McAlister Institute for the PLEADS pilot program, which will fund addiction treatment at the McAlister Institute's Sobering Services Center in downtown San Diego. Eligible residents cannot be enrolled in other addiction treatment programs or on probation or parole.

When a resident is detained for a low-level offense such as being under the influence of a controlled substance, local law enforcement officers will inform them that they can seek treatment in lieu of being arrested.

While at the Sobering Services Center, residents will have access to inpatient and outpatient services, government benefits, detoxification programs and various other services. Residents who forego treatment or make three visits to the Sobering Services Center within 90 days will be arrested for their low-level offense.

"When community-based organizations, prosecutors, law enforcement, and social services agencies come together to create a diversion program, there is a clear benefit for the community," Nisleit said. "PLEADS is one such program that will allow individuals to seek help while not impacting the already strained criminal justice system."

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