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posted: 5/15/2012 5:28 PM

Kane County's second chance drug program off to fast start

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Kane County's new Felony Drug Diversion Program is off to a quick start.

Five defendants have formally applied for the new program, which began Monday and offers low-level users and first-time offenders a chance to avoid a felony conviction.

"After reading the files, it seems like they're good candidates. Most of them are young kids, no criminal history," said Michelle Halbesma, the program director. "I am encouraged from what I am seeing. It seems like they will be an appropriate fit for what the program is."

The next step is for Halbesma to meet with the arresting agencies in each of the cases to get their input before the Kane County State's Attorney's Office makes a recommendation to a judge for final approval.

Halbesma said that step could happen by early July, and from there, participants would enter the one-year program that would consist of counseling, random drug tests, the defendant staying out of trouble and making a taped statement admitting to the crime.

The taped statement can be used by authorities if a participant fails the program and prosecutors move forward with the felony charges.

State's Attorney Joe McMahon officially announced the program last week, saying it was for low-level users and first-time arrestees possessing last than 5 grams of a controlled substance, such as cocaine, or fewer than 100 grams of marijuana.

Gang members, drug dealers, sex offenders and those with prior drug arrests would not be eligible for the program.

If a participant completes all requirements at the end of one year, McMahon's office will drop the charges and the participant can then work to have the actual arrest expunged as well.

McMahon says the program is to complement the county's Drug Court Program, which is a last resort for hard-core users facing lengthy prison terms. Halbesma said some felony drug possession cases dating back to the beginning of the year have been grandfathered in as being eligible for the program, and officials should know by June 1 how many defendants apply.

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