No one wants to be a drug addict. It is an emotionally, financially and physically draining experience. Unfortunately, no one has to tell you how bad the problem is here in Western Pennsylvania, especially with heroin and Fentanyl.
While the economy improves in many other parts of the country, our region continues to suffer from the loss of manufacturing jobs. Many people have fallen prey to drug addiction out of a sense of hopelessness and despair. Unfortunately, our laws do not do much to help these people. The fear of jail keeps many people from getting the help they need. Should these people have to spend time in jail and destroy their records when they could instead be receiving treatment?
A real alternative to criminal punishment
In Scranton, the police department is seeking federal money to try out a new approach to helping drug addicts. The program would give people arrested for low-level drug crimes like simple possession of heroin a chance to receive addiction treatment before charges are ever filed.
The program would involve the person signing a "contract for recovery." They would not be booked and photographed. If the person fails to complete a treatment program, they would then be arrested.
The program would be different from Pennsylvania's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, which gives people an opportunity to have charges dismissed upon completion of specific conditions, which can include drug treatment.
The Scranton Police Chief said the "contract for recovery" approach would give people a chance to avoid the criminal justice system altogether, giving them a shot to have a completely clean record without an arrest. If they complete their treatment program, they will then have an easier time finding a job, because the arrest would not show up on any background checks.
The program is not in place yet
While this program sounds like a great idea, remember that it is not in place yet, and the plan is only to use it in one city in Pennsylvania. In Erie or anywhere else, an arrest for simple possession of heroin or a prescription painkiller could still mean serious consequences.
For now the ARD program is the best option available for most Pennsylvanians who are arrested while struggling with drug addiction. If you are arrested, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your options to receive the treatment you need instead of sitting in a jail cell.