Program offers homeless drug users treatment instead of jail

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SAN DIEGO – Local law enforcement and health officials have launched a program to give homeless drug users treatment instead of sending them to jail.

Wednesday, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott, Police Chief David Nisleit and Luke Bergman, with the County Health and Human Services Agency, announces a diversion program that will let people arrested on some drug charges avoid prosecution and jail time by voluntarily entering a substance abuse treatment program.

The program is called Prosecution and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Services or PLEADS. The goal is to help addicts kick their habit and stop the costly cycle of jailing drug users, releasing them and jailing them again, officials said.

"It’s a way to help folks on street in a vicious cycle where there are not a lot of alternatives,”  San Diego police Lt. Scott Wahl said.

"Instead of perpetually prosecuting individuals who are addicted to drugs, we wanted to help them get to the root of the problem," said City Attorney Elliott. "PLEADS gives people a chance to escape the revolving door of the criminal justice system, begin their recovery from addiction, and build a better life for themselves."

Since PLEADS started last week, nine people have been referred to the program and six agreed to treatment rather than face prosecution.

"This is a sobering center that allows us to take them to a safe place outside of the criminal justice system.," Wahl said.  "The program allows us to go wherever those problems are and have an immediate impact with providing a safe environment and getting folks to the help they need."

The city of San Diego has allocated $300,000 to fund the pilot program fortwo years. After that, existing county services will pay for the program.

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