RUTLAND COUNTY ROLLS OUT RAPID INTERVENTION PROGRAM
RUTLAND – A new rapid-intervention program in Rutland County will give low-level offenders a chance to recover from substance abuse rather than go to jail, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday.
The governor, flanked by Rutland County State’s Attorney Marc Brierre and a host of state and local officials at a news conference in the courthouse, touted the program as another step in the state’s effort to combat opiate addiction as a public health, rather than criminal, emergency.
“Instead of treating this as a crime, let’s treat it as the disease that it is and offer addicts the opportunity to get into treatment,” said Shumlin, who has made addressing opiate addiction the cornerstone of his legislative agenda. “That’s a win for the addicts, it’s a win for Vermonters, it will reduce crime and make our streets safer.”
The intervention program hinges on a third-party “community coordinator” who will evaluate people charged with certain nonviolent misdemeanors. Retired State Police Detective Sam Capogrossi will be the community coordinator.
The program is modeled after a similar program in Chittenden County. That county’s State’s Attorney, T.J. Donovan, gave $10,500 from his program’s $174,000 budget to pay for Capogrossi’s 20-hour-per-week position through June, Donovan said.
Shumlin has promised at least $760,000 next fiscal year to create more rapid intervention programs across the state.
The criminal justice system is in “deep need of reform,” Donovan said Monday. “Rutland County is poised to do great things,” he said.
Brierre said the program will start with about five to 10 cases a week. It will help ease the extreme caseload of attorneys in his office, he said.
The program will save taxpayer dollars, the governor said. A week in prison in Vermont costs about $1,136 but a week in treatment costs $136, officials said.
Crimes eligible for intervention include disorderly conduct, retail theft, using bad checks, fraudulent use of credit cards, trespassing, unlawful mischief and possession of marijuana, cocaine, narcotics, depressants and stimulants.
Those charges will not be erased, but deferred for 90 days for people who agree to attend treatment. After three months the people will be re-evaluated to see if they progressed. If not, the original charge will be prosecuted, Brierre said.
Officials stressed that recovery often doesn’t come without relapses and other bumps along the way, but a person should be able to show that he or she is working toward recovery.
Suspects who commit felonies and violent offenses will not be eligible. People accused of violating a court order or resisting law enforcement officers are also not eligible, officials said.
“The folks that we should be scared of, we’re going to move them through the court process,” Shumlin said. “The folks that we hope we can recover, we should put them in recovery.”
Capogrossi, the community coordinator, will work on the second floor of the police department with a host of other human service workers who work in that office and collaborate with Rutland police.
The police department in 2012 began Project Vision, a data-driven community policing program. Law enforcement partners with schools, churches, hospitals, mental health treatment agencies and other organizations to prevent and reduce crime.
“We’re knocking down the silos between the different sectors of government,” Rutland City Mayor Chris Louras said.
Terming it the “water cooler concept,” officials said Capogrossi will be able to confer directly with the people who work around him in the office to refer people to treatment and services.
Police will also be trained to refer people they charge with the eligible misdemeanors to the intervention program, Brierre said Monday.
The goal is to evaluate people within a week of being cited, he said. The coordinator will screen them using a method called the Ohio Risk Assessment System.
Victims of crimes will still be able to seek restitution, officials said.
Other counties, including Addison, Lamoille and Franklin, are also working to develop similar programs, officials said.