Bill would authorize police to send drug offenders to treatment before they’re charged

Marissa - Deflection Programs

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A bill in the State House gives law enforcement the option to send people suffering from a drug addiction to get help rather than charge them right off the bat.

"A law enforcement official would say, ‘Hey, look, I see that you have this. Instead of prosecuting this case, I’m going to put that on hold and I’m going to put you into a deflection program if you want to,’” said Rep. Russell Fry, who represents Horry County.

If this bill is signed into law, it would give law enforcement agencies the option to establish deflection programs. Fry said authorities would have the opportunity to partner with treatment facilities and community organizations to get those using drugs help, but it wouldn’t be a requirement.

"This just authorizes them to pen these deflection programs, to get people treatment, to get them into recovery and get them back to being productive members of society,” said Fry.

The charges wouldn’t go away if the person in trouble with the law chooses to get help. Fry said the charges would be hanging over their head if they choose the treatment route.

“Certainly a recovery component is important. We’re not just checking the box; we really want to make sure people get into recovery and get off these drugs,” said Fry.

Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson said that partnership with treatment facilities is important and could be a great advantage. His only concern is the availability of treatment facilities in the area.

"How many do we have? I think we need additional treatment centers to be able to place these folks in,” said Thompson.

The 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office offers drug court and mental health court programs to people who need treatment. Senior Assistant Solicitor Josh Holford said giving law enforcement that discretion could be a good thing, but there’s a concern over the structure of the treatment programs.

“Who’s going to supervise them? Who’s going to look to make sure they’re doing their requirements? Who’s going to be accountable for are they completing it or are they not? We even see, when someone has a prison sentence over their head, there are a lot of people who still relapse," said Holford.

“What concerns me on any program that is ever created, is that it’s not just check the box and you’re done, that it’s pretty rigorous, and that you’re going to have to go through some pains, but at the end of the day your life will be better because of it and we’ll have one less person on drugs at he end of it,” said Fry.

Sheriff Thompson said substance abuse is a big problem in our area, but more treatment facilities are necessary. He also said insurance and the lack of means people have to have insurance to keep them in treatment is a problem too. Thompson said looking into a government funded facility that could get people the help they need is important.

“Representative Fry has worked very hard with us, with law enforcement as a whole to come up with ideas and plans. I think this would be a good thing, I just think we need to sit down at the table and see how far we’re going to be able to go with it," said Thompson.

The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday.

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