New Orange County drug diversion policy aims to curb 'mass incarceration'

Certain offenders can have drug charges dropped

A new drug diversion program will allow certain offenders to have their charges dismissed.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A new drug diversion policy for Orange and Osceola counties that will allow certain offenders to have minor charges dropped was unveiled Thursday.

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced the new three-tiered approached, which she said her office developed to put a stop to mass incarcerations and save taxpayer dollars.

"With drug-related offenses in particular, there is significant evidence that the prosecution of these offenses has failed to reduce levels of drug use, dramatically increased the number of individuals incarcerated and undermined public safety by diverting much-needed resources away from the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes," she wrote in a news release.

The goal for the new program is to keep the area safe while making sure offenders get the help they need.

Drug offenses will be categorized into one of three levels.

Cases involving low-level possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia or trace amounts of any drugs will be classified as level one, meaning the offender can complete a one-hour class to have the charges dismissed.

Level two will involve simple possession of heroin, cocaine, felony cannabis, fentanyl and other illegal narcotics. Suspects in those cases will be permitted to take a two-hour class with a licensed treatment provider or social worker, complete four hours of community service and avoid rearrest for six months to have charges dismissed.

Level three will be reserved for people who violate the terms of level two or appear to need treatment for a serious drug addiction. They will receive individualized rehabilitative services through drug court or through the pretrial diversion program.

"Our goal with this new Drug Diversion Program is to provide a common-sense approach to dealing with low-level, non-violent drug-related crimes in a way that keeps citizens safe, reduces costs and frees up our team of prosecutors to pursue the most serious crimes," Ayala wrote.