Philadelphia Wants Fewer People Arrested for Opioids, Narcotics Behind Bars

Police-Assisted Diversion will point users toward social programming, not jails.

In an effort to reduce incarceration and fight the opioid epidemic and narcotics usage, Philadelphia’s leaders are launching a program geared toward keeping people arrested for opioids out of jail.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Police Commissioner Richard Ross, District Attorney Larry Krasner, City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman Curtis Jones gathered at Philadelphia Recovery Community Center in North Philly Friday morning to announce the Police-Assisted Diversion, or PAD, plan.

City leaders say that funneling more drug users into PAD — "a way to divert eligible participants from unnecessary incarceration" — will help to further reduce the jailed population. The PAD program allows police officers to redirect low-level offenders involved in drugs and prostitution access to community-based initiatives and social service instead of prosecution and jail.

"We can get them on the right track and get them the help that they need and the supports that they need to be productive citizens then we can reduce our jail population, we can reduce our misery factor and we can allow people meet their potential," Kenney said.

PAD, a collaboration between police officers, service providers and community members, is "an important tool in the City’s multi-pronged effort to reduce incarceration, lessen racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system, and fight the opioid epidemic," the city said in a news release.

Kenney's budget proposal calls for $750,000 to go toward expanding the PAD, currently operating only in the 22nd Police District, program to the East Division. It is set to already expand to the 39th Police District as well.

Philadelphia currently had 19 initiatives, including PAD, in the city’s Safety and Justice Challenge effort launched in 2015. The goal of the MacArthur Foundation-funded initiate is to lower incarceration by 34 percent by the end of this year. To date, the city has decreased its jailed population by 28 percent since 2015, the city said.

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