Diversion is a very well intended program to divert drug users away from drugs. In practice, Orleans Parish diverts the true intentions of Diversion with unbelievable policy revisions. This leads to a acutely understaffed program that tries as mightily as the Public Defender’s overworked Office does, with about as much success.
The Diversion Office is within the District Attorney’s Office. In Court, I heard the Prosecutor and Assistant DA talking to the Judge about the length of Diversion for a certain non drug related crime, which both ADAs claimed was six months long in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. WRONG!!
The Diversion Program in Orleans Parish is two years long for relatively minor crimes such as simple burglary. Two D.A.s ago, it was six months in length. Then the D.A. declared the program was one year in length, then Cannizzaro doubled the length again, to two years. Have they added staff for the extra year? NOPE.
Diversion was invented for drug users. It’s since been greatly expanded to lots of other crimes, as long as the person being considered isn’t a career criminal, and isn’t violent. Have they added any staff for this huge broadening of the program? NO!
So the counselors responsible for treating all these Diversion enrollees get more and more cases added every single day. They actually have roughly the same number of cases as the Public Defenders, more than 150 but less than 200.
Like Public Defenders, these Diversion Counselors are the salt of the earth, working against the tide, and getting swallowed up by the numbers. 90% of the people in jail cannot afford a lawyer, and the Public Defender’s Office is called numerous times per day in every court room. Not as many people are offered Diversion, but every day Court’s in session, one or more the accused are offered the Diversion alternative.
A key aspect of Diversion is the drug screens. If you are in Diversion for drugs, you have get drug screens at random intervals. If you are in Diversion for anything besides drugs, you get your drug screens at regular intervals. This interval can be one month or longer. A private company runs the drug screening program. They don’t watch you pee, you get to close the door. Behind closed doors, hi jinks can ensue. The drug screens cost 22 dollars, cash or money orders only.
Now in Criminal Court, the Judges have their own drug screen set up. Someone watches you from behind from the same room, eliminating any chance of cheating. This costs 10 dollars. Why doesn’t Diversion use the less expensive option? The Judges won’t fax the results to Diversion.
Some Judges and prosecutors believe in Diversion, and others don’t. Some Judges and prosecutors utilize the Diversion alternative often, while others almost never do. Judges who don’t offer Diversion very often may have much less knowledge about the program.
Attorneys often have their own agenda when seeking Diversion for their clients, or recommending Diversion to their clients, when Diversion is offered. A common strategy for many criminal attorneys is the stalling technique. Diversion stalls a case since the case doesn’t move forward when the Diversion alternative is in play. Allowing years to go by may weaken a case substantially. The Judge and Prosecutor may tire of a case over time. Once a case is two years old, fatigue sets fast. If a case takes 16 months to get going, and Diversion is then offered and accepted, the case may drag on for two or three years. That’s swift justice? It seems to me that six months probably is too short for Diversion. One year sounds about right. But two years? That’s too long, in my estimation.
Diversion used to be six months long, and cost around $2,000 in fees. The fees paid for the drug screenings. Lots of people graduated from the program, but couldn’t move forward because they couldn’t pay the fees. Now the fees have been lowered to $200, but the program is much longer. Few people graduate, and most still don’t pay the fees until they are told they won’t graduate, when they ante up the dough. However, now that the programs have doubled in length again, the $22.oo weekly drug screen fee adds up to around $2,200. So the fees are now around $2,400 for two years- around $2,200 for the screenings, and $200 for the two year program. I don’t know what happens if you cannot pay for the roughly weekly NODA screening, which is 90% of the fees, now going to Tulane Drug Screening.
Update on the Tulane Drug Screening money trail. It’s gone cold. Tulane Drug Screening is privately owned post Katrina, when Tulane dumped the operation and the TDS doctor bought it.
Still a major disconnect going on between the District Attorney and the Judge on one hand, and the Diversion staff within the District Attorney’s Office. The Diversion staff say non drug felony charges have 24 month programs, with 6 months off for good behavior (no infractions) . Step into Court C, and you transport yourself to a land where Diversion programs lead to dismissal at 6 months. The Judge and the D.A. both state this “policy” virtually every time this defendant steps into Court. That’s a big difference between the Diversion folks and the D.A. and Judge.
Newest update on Diversion is the turnover in Diversion Counselors, when it regularly occurs, causes upheaval in the office. Since the case load is so heavy, the remaining staff is unable to keep up with the increase in clients. When the new Counselor is hired, they have no warm up period, its straight into the fire.
Diversion is terribly understaffed and overloaded. This forces the Counselors to prioritize their clients. The ones with strong needs get the majority of the Counselor’s attention and time. The other 8 or 9 dozen get very little attention. As long as the drug screens come back clean, the Counselors have little or no time anyone besides the folks with problems jeopardizing their Diversionary status.
One Diversion client lost his Counselor when she quit, and he hasn’t been contacted at this writing by Diversion since. I assume they will call eventually, but when? It’s already been 1 month.