Pima County STEPs program gives low-level drug offenders second chance

Pima County STEPs gives low level drug offenders second chance

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County Superior Court is offering a second chance to some people brought before the court on low-level drug charges. The Supportive Treatment and Engagement Program, also known as STEPs, is for nonviolent individuals struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Those who qualify will receive substance-use treatment. The drug charge is dismissed after treatment is completed.

STEPs Presiding Judge Danelle Liwski said a person with a drug charge typically waits six months to a year to be sentenced but this program is a game changer.

“It’s shortening that to seven to nine days after a person has been arrested and then they have the opportunity for treatment,” Liwski said.

The program is the first of its kind in Arizona.

“We’re not waiting towards the end of the court process to get them connected. We’re doing it as soon as we possibly can,” said Domingo Corona, the pretrial services director.

The new program is the first of its kind in Arizona.

“We can prevent not only the substance abuse, which is obviously a concern, but anyone who works in criminal justice knows substance abuse leads to other concerns like shoplifting, burglaries,” Liwski said.

They hope addressing the root of the problem will prevent a person from committing future crimes.

“I think the fact we’ve set something up that’s at the forefront of justice work and justice reform is important,” Corona said.

STEPs fully launched in late February. Only a few jurisdictions around the country offer anything similar. The Pima County Superior Court expects it will impact 600 to 1,000 low-level offenders every year.

The superior court estimates eligible offenders would spend about 60 days in jail for felony drug possession. The average individual who enrolls in the STEPs program will reduce their total jail stay by about 55 days. Jail costs run about $127 per individual per day, but the superior court said these are soft costs as the cost of operating a jail is the same if you have one person in a pod or 15.

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