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Governor signs Safe Passage bill

Law part of substance abuse, mental health package

The governor signed a bill Wednesday that will make it easier for communities to implement Safe Passage programs focusing on putting addicts in treatment rather than behind bars.

The Sauk Valley’s Safe Passage Initiative, which launched in Dixon and Lee County in September 2015 and grew to include Sterling, Rock Falls, Whiteside County and other area law enforcement agencies, allows addicts to approach law enforcement, hand over their drugs and go directly into treatment without being arrested.

It was the second of its kind in the nation and the first in Illinois.

The legislation, Senate Bill 3023, creates the Community-Law Enforcement Partnership for Deflection and Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act, which encourages partnerships between law enforcement and treatment centers, allows for state dollars to go toward funding the programs through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, and creates a data collection and evaluation process.

“Our police officers want to help us solve the problem, not just punish people,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said in a news release. “This effort builds community and allows our law enforcement and peace officers a way to give people help instead of a criminal record.”

Funding, which will be set by the Legislature, can go toward a variety of expenses for new and existing Safe Passage programs, including administration and coordination, case management, recovery support services, transportation to treatment centers, and program evaluation.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, was a co-sponsor of the bill and said the legislation is modeled off of the city’s program.

“Dixon has had great success with 215 people placed directly into treatment over incarceration,” Demmer said. “This has resulted in a 39 percent reduction in arrests for drug crimes, as well as properly deflecting people to get the medically driven substance abuse help they need instead of making it difficult for them to get help because of a criminal record.”

Safe Passage received a $75,000 grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority last year to pay for a program coordinator and four recovery coaches to help addicts post-rehab, and the funds will also go toward research and data collection to assess the program.

Sinnissippi Centers opened up the area’s first recovery home in late May; it has beds for 10 men in Dixon, and the agency is working on opening a home for women as well.

The law focuses on preventive measures for curbing the opioid crisis and eases crowding in local jails, said state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, who also co-sponsored the legislation.

“Getting these individuals help before they enter the jail system will make it easier for them to resume their daily routines later without a criminal record, and will reduce the burden on local jail and court systems,” Bivins said.

Rauner signed the legislation along with four other bills geared toward substance abuse and mental health treatment.

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