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Offering Recovery Rather Than Punishment: Implementation of a Law Enforcement-led Pre-arrest Diversion-to-treatment Program for Adults with Substance Use Disorders

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2024

This article explores key components of the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative’s effective implementation, aimed at addressing law enforcement’s frequent encounters with individuals with substance use disorder; it lays out the study’s methodology and results, with a discussion of findings and their implications for practice.


The opioid epidemic has strained the US criminal justice system. Law enforcement frequently encounters persons with substance use disorder (SUD). Law enforcement–led, pre-arrest diversion programs linking individuals with SUD to addiction treatment instead of arrest and prosecution has the potential to reduce crime, overdoses, and other community harms. The authors implemented a pre-arrest diversion-to-treatment program—the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative (MARI)—from September 2017 to August 2020, and describe the key components of MARI's effective implementation. Adults who committed an eligible, drug use–related crime were offered a six-month MARI participation with referral to treatment in lieu of arrest; criminal charges for that crime were “voided” upon the successful MARI completion. Formative evaluation, with stakeholder feedback and team meeting minutes, assessed key factors influencing implementation. Process evaluation consisted of tracking participant referrals, enrollment, and engagement. Police officers, MARI participants, and treatment center staff members were surveyed about program experiences and attitudes. The study used descriptive statistics to describe quantitative survey responses; thematic qualitative analysis identified major themes in qualitative responses. Of 263 participants, 160 initiated program engagement, with 100 successfully completing MARI. Interim evaluations and community partner feedback informed program protocol adjustments to increase participant enrollment, retention and diversity, streamline the referral processes, and transition to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rigorous evaluation and community partner feedback are essential components of effective implementation and sustainability of a law enforcement–led pre-arrest diversion-to-treatment program, which has the potential to both reduce crime and overdose, and change the lives of people with SUD. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: April 1, 2024