Published in the September 22, 2017 edition.

WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield Police Department has formed a Wakefield Youth Diversion Program for individuals under the age of 21 who are found to be in possession of alcohol or illegal drugs.

Early intervention strategies, such as diversion programs, are essential to identifying issues early and connecting individuals to services. Numerous studies have shown that drug and alcohol use in the developing brain can have grave consequences, to include higher rates for substance use dependence, chronic health issues, potential for drug overdoses, depression, and suicide. The purpose of this program is for youths to take ownership of their actions and provide them with an evidence-based educational component that will hopefully prevent future issues with either drugs, alcohol, or the criminal justice system.

This pre-court program was developed through partnerships with the Wakefield Police Department, Wakefield Unified Prevention Coalition (Wake-Up), the Wakefield Public Schools, and the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School.

This will consist of a diversion contract with multiple components that youth must complete over a six-month period. Classes will be taught by a team of instructors that may include WPS and NMRVS faculty, Wakefield Health Department staff, and a clinician. After participating in the class, the individual will have a follow-up meeting with a mental health professional. Other components of this program during the contract period will include, but not limited to: a written essay focused on prevention, community service hours, no negative police interactions, and the individual must remain drug/alcohol free.

Offenders are not guaranteed acceptance and may only be afforded one opportunity for this program. Approval will be dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case along with other factors such as previous incidents with the police department, prior history with the criminal justice system, school related matters, etc. This program is not intended for youths involved with the distribution of drugs, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, or those that are socially hosting parties where alcohol or drugs are being consumed.

Wake-Up is currently working with the Wakefield Public Schools and the Northeast Regional Vocational School to potentially adapt their own version of this type of program for school-related substance use incidents.

Police Chief Rick Smith noted, “In many cases, youths involved with minor possession related issues are better served with education and guidance as opposed to criminal or civil process. We have worked diligently with this population over the years to help them make better decisions, both through our patrol division as well as our school resource officers, and feel strongly that this program will enhance our mission. We are in the midst of a serious opioid epidemic, one that cannot be ignored with the hope that it will somehow go away. Identification, instruction, and support at a young age using a team approach are critical components to prevention.”