New Madison police addiction recovery program seeing success - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

New Madison police addiction recovery program seeing success

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison police are seeing a good response to a new program that aims to treat, not punish, drug addicts who commit crimes.

Police started the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative (MARI) on September 1. It allows people who would otherwise be arrested for low-level drug-related crimes to avoid being charged, if they promise to get treatment for at least six months. 

Officer Dan Swanson says the department started the program with grant funding, in an effort to save lives.

"We're seeing heroin overdoses and deaths from overdoses just skyrocket statistically. What we're doing currently isn't enough," Swanson told 27 News. 

So far this year, there have already been 200 heroin-related overdoses in Madison. Police say 20 of those people died, which is an increase of 350 percent over last year. 

In the first two months, officers have referred nearly 30 people to MARI. Almost half have started treatment through Connections Counseling in Madison. 

"I think it's a light of hope and I like seeing it," Swanson said.

Joe Darcy is an addiction recovery coach with the program. 

"I'm there to help these people get connected to the community and help them determine what might be best for them in their early days of recovery," Darcy said.

Darcy can relate to the two people he's started coaching in the program. He's been recovering from drug and alcohol addiction for more than five years.

"It's possible to recover," Darcy told 27 News. "It's not something that anyone could do alone."

Krystle Haviland, assistant director of Connections Counseling, says that personal connection could be just what someone dealing with addiction needs to overcome their struggle.

"They are people who are in a place of desperation. I truly believe that nobody wants to be doing these things," said Haviland. "[The program is] based on how do they get what they need in terms of their disease. So this is really changing it and keeping them out of jail, in the community and giving them resources they need to live a quality life."

MARI is based on a similar program in Seattle. That city found people given a chance at treatment instead of charges were 60 percent less likely to be put in jail again. The department's grant pays for three years of the program. 

Madison officers have been trained to determine whether a low-level offense was committed to support the offender's addiction. Crimes that are considered in the program include things like retail theft, theft from vehicles, burglary or theft from a family member, prostitution and possession of drugs. Offenders cannot be on probation, parole or out on bail. 

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