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Orange County pilot program to help low-level offenders avoid charges

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer on Wednesday announced a pilot program that would allow some low-level offenders to avoid facing a criminal filing if they participate in mental health or substance abuse services.

The FIRST Point Diversion Program — or Focused Intervention Route to Services and Treatment — is a partnership with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Seal Beach and Irvine Police departments and the county’s Health Care Agency and Social Services Agency.

“The entire goal of pre-filing diversion is to get new offenders connected to services immediately upon contact by the police,” Spitzer said in a statement. “My entire goal is not only to reduce recidivism, but to keep a person entirely out of the justice system beyond the arrest to keep a person from ever having charges filed — the greatest inhibition to future job and educational opportunities.”

The sort of offenders eligible for the program will be for crimes such as drug possession and being drunk in public, or when there is a victim who approves, in cases such as in trespassing, vandalism and assault.

Police will consult with prosecutors to determine a first layer of eligibility, and then the alleged offender will be assessed by a Health Care Agency counselor, who will monitor the person through the process. If the offender successfully completes a treatment program, he or she will not be charged with a crime.

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