Saying drug or alcohol dependency is often at the root of nonviolent crimes, St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Perry Nicosia outlined a new pretrial diversion plan for first-time nonviolent offenders that would keep them from having a criminal record if they take action to evaluate their problem and deal with it.
At the monthly meeting of the St. Bernard Community Anti-Drug Coalition, Nicosia said the diversion plan “will help people deal with a problem before they have a criminal record.’’
It would be for those who “have a chemical addiction but aren’t really criminals,” Nicosia said.
He also said his office will work to try to get inpatient and outpatient treatment services in St. Bernard Parish for people with drug and alcohol problems.
“It’s almost like a pretrial probation,’’ Nicosia said of the pretrial diversion program, but the person has to agree to be evaluated, get treatment and counseling and be regularly tested for drugs. It is giving them help instead of simply having them go through the criminal justice system and ending up with a record without working on the root problem that led to the criminal acts, he said.
“I feel we can use diversion to find out what their real problem is,” Nicosia said.
If they slip up in the diversion program, they lose the chance to have a case dismissed and, instead, go back into the system on the regular court docket to be adjudicated, the district attorney said.
Nicosia took over as district attorney Jan. 1 after winning an election last fall following the retirement of longtime DA Jack Rowley.
The District Attorney’s Office has been conferring with Sheriff James Pohlmann about use of the diversion program. Nicosia said an offender won’t be accepted into the program if there is objection by the Sheriff’s Office.
The nonprofit St. Bernard Anti-Drug Coalition works to reduce illegal drug use in the parish by developing rehabilitation programs and promoting existing resources. A cross section of government and school officials are members of the coalition board.
The coalition chairman is Dan Schneider, and Polly Campbell is program director.