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Supportive Interventions for Drug Possession

By Kenneth Hayes and Jennifer Kilpatrick · 2023-5-30

From 2017-2019, our office filed approximately 1,200 felony drug cases per year, primarily for possession.  In 2019, Colorado legislators passed House Bill 19-1263, which reclassified most drug possession to a misdemeanor. The statute took effect on March 1, 2020. The legislation decreased the felony filings, added a significant number of cases into county court, and dramatically shifted how drug possession cases are handled within the criminal justice system.

Individuals charged with possession of controlled substance often lack stable housing, consistent employment, and access to treatment. Nearly 80% of individuals fail to appear (“FTA”) for their first court appearance and recent local data also indicate that approximately 50% of individuals charged with drug possession spend some time in jail, either in pretrial detention or as a sentence.

Drug charges also impact our community disproportionately - Black and Latino individuals are overrepresented in cases involving drug charges. Our Disparities Analysis reveals that Hispanic and Black individuals are more likely to plead guilty to a drug offense than white individuals. In addition, Latino individuals are more likely to be incarcerated for a case involving drug charges than white or Black individuals.

To address these cases our office prioritizes community-based treatment and support for individuals charged with drug possession. Those charged only with drug possession are eligible to have their criminal charges dismissed and access treatment through our Pathways Substance Intervention Program (SIP). The Pathways program was intentionally designed with the assistance of the Center for Justice Innovation to promote equitable outcomes, decrease failure to appear rates, and connect individuals with opportunities for meaningful treatment quickly through Ascent Health.

SIP became fully operational in the Fall of 2022, resulting in more than a quarter of 2022’s possession cases being diverted to supportive services.

Because of the great work of our line deputies in identifying Pathways eligible clients and the hard work of our Pathways client specialists, our Pathways clients look like the communities most impacted by the traditional, punitive criminal justice response to substance use disorder. In Pathways, individuals receive support rather than punishment.

FYI: Census Population Estimates 2022 for JeffCo: White 91%, Black/AA 1.6%, AI/AN 1.2%, Asian 3.2%, Native Hawaiian/PacIsl 0.1%, 2+ races 2.7%, Hispanic/Latino 15.9%, White alone/not Hisp 77.2%