By LIAM MAYO
SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Starting this fall, Sullivan County law enforcement will handle cases of drug addiction with an entirely new program aimed toward rehabilitation instead of imprisonment.
In a press conference held last Friday, July 16, the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office and the county’s Drug Task Force announced their participation in the Hope Not Handcuffs (HNH) program.
HNH is an initiative started by the Michigan-based Families Against Narcotics, a community organization looking to help individuals, families and communities suffering from drug addiction. In 2019, the initiative spread to the Hudson Valley with the assistance of the Tri-County Community Partnership and is currently partnered with over 60 area law enforcement agencies.
HNH looks to give people suffering from substance abuse issues the support they need to work their way through an addiction treatment program, rather than facing arrest. When they walk into a police station, law enforcement officers will connect them with an “angel,” an HNH program advocate. That advocate will, in turn, connect them with a network of resources for long-term care, ensuring they have a place to stay for recovery and for healing.
The program also affects their legal record, as described by Sullivan County District Attorney Meagan Galligan. When someone suffering from substance abuse issues enters a treatment program through HNH, any misdemeanor charges of drug possession can be held in abeyance and removed from their criminal record upon the successful completion of the treatment program. The same goes for other low-level misdemeanor charges which, while not directly related to charges of drug possession, can be indirectly related to the effects of their addiction.
While the program looks to keep individuals suffering from addiction out of jail, speakers at the press conference made sure to distinguish between addicts in need of help and sellers who “distribute toxic poison into our communities,” in the words of Galligan.
“Sale equals jail,” said state Sen. Mike Martucci. “People who have addiction issues need help.”
For those people in need of help, the program provides a caring network of law enforcement, treatment centers and community resources, offering connection in what can be an isolating situation.
“We want those who are suffering to trust the police [and to] turn to them for help,” said legislative chair Rob Doherty, in a pre-prepared statement read out by vice-chair Mike Brooks.
“We’re allowing people to talk about their addictions and to reach out for help,” said state assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
Angels and advocates
While HNH relies on cooperation from and collaboration with treatment resources and law enforcement agencies, the connection between law enforcement and treatment relies on a network of volunteer advocates known as angels.
Now that the program has moved into Sullivan County, it needs volunteers in the area to be those angels.
“It takes all of us,” said HNH Program Director Annette Kahrs. “Let’s get us all involved.”
When someone suffering from substance addiction goes to the police looking for help, described Kahrs, the police call an HNH volunteer in to be that person’s advocate. The volunteer meets with the individual within the police station, helps comfort them in any way they can, and makes the necessary calls to connect that individual with long-term treatment resources.
No prior training is necessary to volunteer for the program; once trained, a volunteer will take a six-hour shift at least once a month to be on call for when law enforcement needs to connect an individual with treatment resources.
“I really have seen people… who get an opportunity to help someone, and they feel incredible,” said Kahn.
For more information on Hope Not Handcuffs, including how to volunteer to be an angel, visit the website of the Hudson Valley HNH branch at www.tricountycommunitypartnership.org/hope-not-handcuffs.