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updated: 1/10/2012 5:28 PM

McMahon ponders new drug diversion program

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Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon is considering starting a program for first-time offenders facing felony drug charges for relatively small amounts of drugs, such as cocaine residue.

McMahon said if a program was started, it would focus on helping casual drug users and give them a chance to avoid a felony record.

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If a program was launched, it would be different and separate from the county's Drug Court, which is an intensive, year-plus program aimed at breaking addictions. Often, people in this program were committing crimes to support their habit, and it's a last resort before a lengthy prison term.

McMahon also said Tuesday his office authorized 420 charges in 2011 for unlawful possession of a controlled substance, a felony that carries a one- to three-year prison term.

In 2010, prosecutors issued 511 charges of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

McMahon said an advantage to the proposed program would be keeping cases from clogging the court system and free prosecutors to focus on other cases.

One concrete goal McMahon has for 2012 is to expand the Second Chance program, which is for nonviolent felony offenders.

"By expanding the diversion program, it allows us to focus on the most serious cases, the violent crime we have in the community," he said.

Last year, McMahon's office authorized 2,909 felony cases, which is down nearly 8 percent from the 3,158 cases authorized in 2010. Misdemeanor cases also were down 13 percent from 2010, and McMahon said it was difficult to pinpoint exactly why.

One factor could be that certain crimes -- giving a police officer a fake name -- were now misdemeanors instead of felonies and that retail theft was only a felony if more than $300 was stolen instead of $150. Some municipalities also are prosecuting their own cases, such as DUIs and petty offenses so they can keep more of the revenue from fines.

"There probably are societal factors that are a bigger explanation for the increase," he added.

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