Vermont Program For Addicts Opts For Treatment Over Jail


With Vermont’s court system overwhelmed with a backlog of cases centered around opioid addiction, the state has adopted a pre-trial program that sends repeat low-risk offenders with drug addiction or mental health issues into treatment as an alternative to jail.

The program requires participants to adhere to a contract with the state attorney’s office to complete treatment and avoid drug use. In exchange, they will have their charges dismissed.

Act 195 established the pre-trial program in 2014, which screened individuals with repeated arrests or citations for misdemeanor and/or felony drug charges to undergo voluntary screening for mental health and substance use, as well as potential risk of non-appearance and threat to public safety.

Upon reviewing the results, the state’s attorney can recommend to a judge that the individual be considered for the program. Upon the judge’s approval, the participant would sign a contract accepting responsibility for the charge and then undergo the requirements of the contract, from mental health and substance use disorder treatment to alternative justice programs.

Any additional criminal behavior can revive prosecution and possible incarceration. Completion of the program allows the participant to tackle their addiction issues and keep their record clear of criminal charges.

The pre-trial program largely driven by Governor Pete Shumlin’s 2014 State of the State address, in which he spent the entire hour chronicling how opioid addiction had been devastating Vermont. Among the startiling facts were a 770% increase in treatment for opioids since 2000 and double the number of deaths from heroin overdose in a single year between 2012 and 2013.

Similar programs in various states have also yielded successful results. Participants in Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program were found to be 58% less likely to face additional arrests than others, while just 142 of the 650 participants in Jefferson County, Kentucky’s program were arrested on new charges.