OC District Attorney’s Office Launches Diversion Program for Cases May Involve Mental Health, Substance Abuse – Orange County Register

Orange County has launched a program to connect eligible people arrested for low-level crimes with mental health and addictions services before criminal charges are filed in an effort to curb recidivism, a the district attorney’s office announced Wednesday.

The FIRST (Focused Intervention Route to Services and Treatment) Point Diversion Program plans to target specific individuals with possible behavioral issues, including mental health or substance abuse issues, who have committed victimless crimes or crimes where the victim is cooperative.

It will be led by the OC District Attorney’s Office in partnership with participating Orange County police departments, including the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Irvine Police Department and Police Department of Seal Beach.

A law enforcement officer from one of the participating agencies will send the crime report to a designated prosecutor. If the prosecutor feels there is enough evidence to press charges, but the person is eligible for the program, the case is referred to an intake counselor at the county health care agency to assess and develop a treatment plan. This could include services such as addiction counseling and mental illness assistance.

The person’s progress and success in the program is monitored by their advisor. If successful, charges are not filed, but if the program is not completed within 10 months, prosecutors will still have the option of filing criminal charges before the one-year statute of limitations expires.

Program participants may also check with the county’s social services agency to see if they are eligible for food stamps or Medi-Cal services. Access to social services and any benefits they may receive will continue whether or not the program participant successfully completes the program, the OC District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Law enforcement agencies are hoping that fixing the underlying issues in exchange for not filing criminal charges will prevent a criminal record that could hamper their job or housing options and reduce the number of repeat offenders.

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