BANGOR – Fifteen defendants saw their theft convictions for shoplifting dismissed after participating in a new initiative.
On Wednesday, through a collaborative effort with community partners, the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office offered its first Diversion Program.
The course included presentations from District Attorney Marianne Lynch and members of the Bangor Area Recovery Network, or BARN, and as well as Bangor’s Public Health and Community Services Department.
“So they learned about things like CPR yesterday in case they encountered somebody or a friend or relative who was overdosing. They left with information about where to go get help,” Lynch said.
Other topics the Diversion Program covered included health issues associated with substance abuse, available treatment resources in the community, and collateral consequences associated with criminal convictions.
Bangor Public Health Specialist Joseph Locke believe raising awareness is important for public health.
“We’re in the midst of an opioid crisis where we’re averaging about one death per day as a result of opiates. So we here at public health feel that it is important to get the information out into the community on how to help somebody so that they don’t become a statistic,” Locke said.
BARN Peer Support Coordinator Robert Fickett said he believes the program gives them an chance to avoid that fate.
“So it’s really about helping people to identify the resources. But I think also it is a diversion program in the sense that it may give somebody the information they need to not start down that path in the first place,” Fickett said.
The 15 defendants who participated in the program not only had their shoplifting convictions dismissed but also now have a chance to re-engage in the workforce.
“It’s very difficult to fill jobs here. We have a job crisis here in Maine and these convictions were going to be a bar to gainful employment for these people,” Lynch said.
Lynch said the success of this program will be measured in repeat arrest rates of the participants.