In the City of Phoenix when a person is caught in violation of underage drinking or alcohol possession, first, the defendant is given a citation and a court date. The first hearing is the defendant’s arraignment, where the city prosecutor determines the defendant’s eligibility for participation in the City of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office Underage Drinking and Alcohol Possession Diversion Program.
“Diversion programs are ways to help solve problems in the community,” said Aarón Carreón-Aínsa, City Prosecutor. “It is an opportunity for first time offenders to have a chance to clear their record.”
If a defendant is determined to be eligible for participation in the Underage Drinking and Alcohol Possession Diversion Program, they have the opportunity to enter into a plea agreement, said Martha Perez Loubert, head of the city’s diversion programs.
When a defendant chooses diversion, they sign a plea agreement, pleading guilty to the charges against them. If the defendant completes the program, the charge is dismissed, but if the plea agreement is violated the defendant must pay a fine of $940.
“The programs divert people out of the court system,” Perez Loubert said. “It saves the city money and if the defendant doesn’t follow through they pay a fine, but it’s cheaper to do the program than to pay the fine.”
The Underage Drinking and Alcohol Diversion Program was implemented in July 2009.
Since the start of the program, the City has contracted with SAGE Counseling for several of its diversion programs, including the underage drinking program.
The city’s program is effective in ensuring that people participate in the program.
“They have six months to complete the program, but they must be actively participating. The case does not remain open for six months,” Perez Loubert said.
The defendant’s initial intake into the program costs $65. They must attend an intake appointment with SAGE Counseling within 30 days of signing the plea agreement.
“They’re screened by a licensed counselor to determine what treatment they need,” said Lisa Moody, Operations Director at SAGE Counseling.
The counselors look at things like family history, onset of alcohol use, tolerance and patterns when determining what comes next.
“We look at how much they drink in a week and what else they’re using,” Moody said. “Most people we’re seeing use multiple substances.”
Depending on the intake assessment, the defendant will attend either a 16 hour weekend education class or between 10 and 28 alcohol treatment group sessions.
Participants pay $120 for the education class or $22 per weekly alcohol treatment session and are all between 18 and 20 years old.
“That’s a difficult population to deal with,” Moody said. “They have a very difficult time seeing future consequences.”
Between July 2009 and June 2011, SAGE Counseling received 1,800 referrals from the city’s diversion program.
“As any treatment is, it’s effective for people who want to be affected,” Moody said. “I have seen people do really well. I see a lot of good. I see a lot of people coming out of the treatment in a different way. People who are really mad in the beginning are not so mad at the end and they feel like this probably was a good thing.”