Kane County drug program aims to help some first-time offenders
Some low-level drug users will avoid felony convictions
The Kane County state's attorney's office next week will launch a second chance program for some first-time arrestees and low-level drug users charged with having small amounts of cocaine, marijuana and other substances.
The carrot for completing the 12-month program is avoiding a felony conviction, which can stop someone from voting, owning a gun, getting a job, securing a loan or even gaining admission to college.
There are numerous criteria for first-time offenders to be accepted into the program, but one requirement before getting in is for the arrestee to give a taped statement essentially confessing to what crime was committed.
Consider this the stick if a participant fails to take the program seriously or fails a random drug test.
"I want to make sure our ability to prosecute the case when we go back to court is streamlined. That's our way to streamline the process," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said Tuesday.
McMahon and his staff have been working on the details of the Felony Drug Diversion Program since the beginning of the year.
The program begins Monday, and it's designed to give first-time arrestees facing felony charges of drug possession a chance to have the charges dropped and possibly their arrest expunged if they stay clean for 12 months, go to counseling and stay out of trouble.
Gang members, sex offenders and those on probation or parole are not eligible, and arrestees must possess less than 5 grams of a controlled substance, such as cocaine, or fewer than 100 grams of marijuana.
The arrestee must apply for the program, and McMahon's office has the final say but will consult with the arresting agency first.
Participants must also pass four random drugs tests, pay court costs and give the recorded statement essentially admitting what they did. If everything goes well after 12 months, McMahon's office will drop the charges. If someone messes up, the charges can be reinstated and the taped statement used as evidence in the case.
It is difficult to gauge how many people might enter the program. Since 2007, the county has averaged 414 cases a year for Class 4 felony possession of a controlled substance or possession of cannabis, but not all of those would be eligible for the program because of a variety of factors, including their possible past criminal records.
For McMahon, the program is about giving people a chance to avoid the scarlet letter of a felony conviction while freeing up time for his prosecutors to focus on violent crimes and other cases.
He said he plans to evaluate the program in six months and that it is meant to complement the county's drug Court program, which is a last resort for hard-core users facing prison time.
"People who deal drugs, people who engage in trafficking drugs ... those are not the people we're looking to (put in the program)," McMahon said. "This program is not targeted for someone who I would call a hard-core user or addict. That's part of our screening process."
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