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State grant program aims to bolster substance abuse education

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The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission has awarded more than $600,000 in grants to 13 criminal justice agencies and nonprofit organizations with the goal of reaching youth and young adults through substance abuse prevention and education.

“We realized as a community that you can’t focus only on one aspect of the problem, which is, ‘How do we deal with them after they’ve been arrested?’” said Andrew LeFevre, public information officer and legislative liaison for the commission. “We’ve also realized as a criminal justice community that you have to focus things on the front end to help cut down on the problem overall.”

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission partnered with the Arizona Department of Health Services to offer the substance abuse prevention funding with a criminal justice focus.

The grants come with a caveat: Agencies must use the funding by the end of September.

“The exciting thing about it is that these programs are going to be going into effect starting April 1, and will be working very hard over the next six months to see if we can have an impact in their communities,” LeFevre said.

One grant went to a diversion program in southern Arizona that allows minors to be tried by a jury of their peers.

The Pima County Teen Court gives volunteer youth the ability to perform roles such as prosecuting attorney, defense attorney and jury. An adult volunteer judge presides over the youth-led courtroom.

“The volunteers who work in the program – it becomes a primary prevention for them because they are learning, first of all, how much trouble you can get into. So, they see it firsthand, “ said Claire Scheuren, executive director of the Pima Prevention Partnership.

The Pima County Teen Court will use their $36,118 grant for a new sentencing option, she said.

“This is going to be extremely valuable to us because we’re starting to see referrals, from Pima County Juvenile Court, of young people who are at higher risk of recidivism, and so we needed a stronger sentencing option,” she said.

Jennifer Sochocki, support services administrator for the Kingman Police Department, said a $65,915 grant will be used to tackle substance abuse using a three-tiered approach of education and prevention, treatment and enforcement.

The Mohave Opportunities Rehab Education, which will fall under the Mohave Area General Narcotics Enforcement Team, will start in Kingman, Sochocki said.

Part of the grant will help fund drug-trend training for school resource officers, educational programs and materials for schools, she said.

“We want to be able to do more to reduce the substance abuse in the county by proactively addressing it for both juveniles and adults,” Sochocki said.

Stephanie Siete, director of community education for Community Bridges, a medical and behavioral health organization with programs throughout the state, said that when putting together educational classes the topic of prescription drug abuse transferring to heroin use has always been popular.

“Hands down, in the last few years it’s been prescription pills and heroin. Hands down. The statistics show it, the public is finally becoming more aware about it but they’re still not enough of the general public knowing the epidemic of prescription pills,” she said.