116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — In the first year of Linn County’s marijuana diversion program, 114 people entered the program last year, 50 didn’t complete requirements, 36 are still working on it, and 28 completed the program, allowing judges to expunge their records.
Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said he views those statistics as successful because 28 people were diverted from the justice system, and 36 are still working to complete the program.
The County Attorney’s Office recommends expungements to the court, but it’s up to a judge to approve the removal of arrests from the official record.
The diversion program was created in December 2020 for first-time offenders found in possession of a small amount of marijuana. The county attorney’s office recommends people for enrollment in the program.
Conviction on a marijuana offense may have serious and lasting financial consequences for offenders when they try to secure housing, find jobs and access higher education, Maybanks said in a statement.
The abuse of marijuana also presents “potential dangers,” so the diversion program attempts to address and balance those concerns, Maybanks added.
A graph of the program’s first-year outcomes indicate people who didn’t complete the program either didn’t reach the six-month mark before reoffending, didn’t complete substance abuse treatment and/or community service, failed to appear in court or failed to meet another requirement.
Some of those referred to the program didn’t complete more than one requirement, Maybanks said.
Two of the main reasons for not completing the program were failing to get a substance abuse evaluation and doing the required 10 hours of community service.
“Our goal is to get up to a 50 percent success rate, but it’s up to each person to follow through,” Maybanks said “ … All we can do is give them the opportunity.”
When the program was announced in December 2020, a review of the program’s effectiveness was promised and, if needed, modifications would be made, Maybanks said.
He said it was “important to me that we kept that commitment to review the program and share the results with the public.”
As another measure of the program’s effectiveness, the county attorney’s office will track whether participants reoffend within six months of completing the program.
“We don’t want repeat offenders,” Maybanks said. “We want to divert people from the criminal justice system.”
The report also identifies the race of those in the program because some residents have concerns over racial disparity rates in marijuana arrests, Maybanks said.
“I think the enrollment statistics, relative to the population of Linn County, shows there has been substantial access to the program for racial minorities,” Maybanks said.
The report shows 58.77 percent of those enrolled were white; 40.35 percent were Black; and 0.88 percent were Asian.
Of those, 21 white participants were successful and 21 failed; seven Black participants were successful and 28 failed; and the one Asian participant failed.
The racial breakdowns were based on the information provided by police from the criminal complaints, Maybanks said.
Last year when the program was announced, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker had concerns about the program’s structure and potential inequities, urging then-Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, who retired last year, to consult with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the NAACP over how to best structure the program.
Iowa has one of the nation's highest racial disparity rates for marijuana arrests, with only Montana, Illinois, Kentucky and West Virginia having higher rates, according to the ACLU.
Maybanks said if this program demonstrates success in keeping people out of the criminal justice system without substantial repeat offenses, he would consider additional programs for other controlled substance offenses and low-level financial crimes. Those programs, he said, would focus on rehabilitation and restitution before prison.
The office also is researching the framework for a mental health court for sometime in the future.
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