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Hope Not Handcuffs has police officers steering drug users toward treatment rather than jail

Posted at 5:13 PM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 22:55:58-04

LANSING, Mich. —

Hope Not Handcuffs works by turning the usual relationship between police officers and drugs users on its head.

Police departments participating in the program will help drug users get treatment rather than steer them toward jail.

And it has done so for close to 6,000 people since it was founded in 2017 by Families Against Narcotics.

Phil Pavona lost a son to drugs, he's the founder of the Families Against Narcotics Ingham/Okemos chapter, and he's responsible for bringing Hope Not Handcuffs to mid-Michigan in February.

Phil Pavona lost a son to drugs, he's the founder of the Families Against Narcotics Ingham/Okemos chapter, and he's responsible for bringing Hope Not Handcuffs to mid-Michigan in February.

"It can be wide-ranging," Pavona said, "anything from alcohol all the way to meth, heroin, whatever it happens to be that they're struggling with. They will not be arrested, they will simply be treated with dignity and respect."

Pavona worked with Captain Chris Rozman of the Michigan State University Police Department to implement Hope Not Handcuffs at every police department in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton County.

"So somebody who is experiencing a substance abuse disorder can walk into any police department in the Greater Lansing area anytime, 24 hours a day, and ask for help," Rozman said.

Once an individual comes and asks for help, police will give them water, food and a safe space to rest while they wait for an "angel" to arrive.

"Angels" are volunteers with Hope Not Handcuffs.

One of the program founders, Linda Davis, said they have over 600 "angel volunteers."

Davis is the executive director of Families Against Narcotics and a former Clinton Township Judge who spent 19 years presiding over drug court cases. Her own daughter also once struggled with substance abuse after a cheerleading injury.

Linda Davis is the executive director of Families Against Narcotics and a former Clinton Township Judge who spent 19 years presiding over drug court cases. Her own daughter also once struggled with substance abuse after a cheerleading injury.

She said one of the program's strengths is the follow-through from Hope Not Handcuffs angels.

"We know that it takes a year for the brain to heal from opiate use, so you need to have a program that is going to monitor them for up to a year," she said. "And if you do that, you see amazing results happen where people are getting married and having families and going back to college."

How does the program work?

The Hope Not Handcuffs year-long follow through works like this: From the day someone comes to a police station to ask for help, an angel will assist that person in setting up a treatment plan, including two weeks of free transitional housing, free peer coaching for the user and the user's family, opportunities for future employment and scheduled check-ins.

"If you incarcerate somebody for three days, 30 days, three years or 30 years, most of them within a two-week period of time will relapse and go back to using drugs again," Davis said. "It's all about treating those individuals and getting them the help they need. So the billions of dollars we waste in the United States on incarceration of people that are ill from a disease is a waste of taxpayer money. And if we put those resources into treatment, we could really start turning things around with addiction and get people to help they need."

If you incarcerate somebody for three days, 30 days, three years or 30 years, most of them within a two-week period of time will relapse.

Treatment over Incarceration is what Hope Not Handcuffs is all about.

"Our system is so cold to people that have substance use disorder. It's not like any other disease, cancer, diabetes, where you go to your doctor and this warm hand-off happens," Davis said. "You pretty much are left to navigate the system on your own, and that's where Hope Not Handcuffs come in. We are that warm body that's going to stay the course with you to make sure that you are successful in your treatment."

The only individuals who may not be eligible for this program are those with a felony or domestic violence warrant out for their arrest, or someone who is a danger to others.

However, organizers say people with warrants for lesser offenses would be able to get treatment before they appear in front of a judge.

This isn't a get out of jail free card

"Now, this isn't a get out of jail free card, if you had a warrant, eventually we will deal with that warrant. But it will be way after you've had treatment," Pavona said. "And to be honest with you, when you talk to the court system, they would much rather have an individual step in front of them who has now been through detox and treatment, hasn't used a substance for 90 days, 100 days, has their wits and their mind about them to be able to have a conversation of where their life's gonna go next."

Hope Not Handcuffs is available at over 100 police departments in Michigan and 42 in New York.

Davis said they have requests from Michigan police stations to be a part of the program, but a lack of funding them is stopping them from expanding.

"We know in law enforcement that addiction can fuel criminal behavior, and the more we can facilitate getting people the help that they need, means less victimization, fewer people in jail, and a better chance at long term recovery," said Rozman. "We know that that's the reality, which is why we're so committed to this program."

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