Orange County’s “FIRST” Program Gives Eligible Offenders a Second Chance

A new diversion program reinforces the value of rehabilitation and recognizes that addiction doesn’t define one’s destiny.

The disease of addiction relates to crime in many ways. When someone is struggling with substance misuse, they may not consider the consequences of their actions. In many cases, illegal activity, like stealing becomes just another way to sustain their addiction. The crime followed by time behind bars becomes a revolving door with many trapped in the system.

Orange County is trying to curb this problematic pattern, by offering eligible offenders who suffer from addiction or mental health issues a choice: rehab or jail time.

Recent reports say drug use increases the likelihood of continued involvement in criminal activity, with high rates of relapse and recidivism found among drug-involved offenders; 68% of drug offenders are rearrested within 3 years of release from prison

The FIRST (Focused Intervention Route to Services and Treatment) Point Diversion Program plans to target specific people with possible behavioral issues, including mental health challenges or substance abuse, who have committed victimless misdemeanor crimes or misdemeanor crimes where the victim is cooperative.

It will be led by the OC District Attorney’s Office in partnership with participating police departments around Orange County.

How the FIRST Program Works

The program begins when a law enforcement officer from one of the participating agencies sends the initial crime report to a designated prosecutor. Next, if the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence to file charges, but the person qualifies for the program, the case is referred to an intake counselor at the county’s Health Care Agency to assess and develop a treatment plan. This could include services such as substance abuse counseling and mental illness assistance.

The person’s progress and success in the program is monitored closely by their counselor. If they are successful, charges will not be filed. However, if the program is not completed within 10 months, prosecutors still can file criminal charges before the one-year statute of limitations expires.

Law enforcement agencies hope addressing underlying issues in exchange for not filing criminal charges will not only reduce the number of repeat offenders but also prevent a criminal record that may affect their future employment opportunities.

Finding Treatment in Orange County

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and looking for drug detox or rehab near Los Angeles, our Laguna Treatment Hospital can help kickstart your recovery. Laguna Treatment Hospital provides comprehensive treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Laguna is the first addiction treatment center in Orange County to be licensed as a chemical dependency recovery hospital. By providing a fully integrated hospital-based detox and residential inpatient treatment program all at our Southern California treatment facility, patients are assured of a safe, comfortable experience in a soothing environment.


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We are here to help you get sober and learn how to stay that way. Laguna Treatment Hospital is located in Orange County within easy reach of the entire Los Angeles metro. We are the premier chemical dependency recovery hospital in the OC. We offer safe medical detox, mental health support, and wellness programs.