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Polk County Attorney Kimberly Graham helps marijuana offenders stay out of jail

A Closer Look at the Importance of Diversion Programs

When it comes to the benefits and impacts of diversion programs it’s common to focus on the big picture, with nationwide statistics and general information. While this insight is important it is also great to look at the more small-scale community impacts and local successes. Recently Kimberly Graham, the County Attorney for Polk County Iowa, reflected on her first year in office and the marijuana diversion program she started. Graham’s election illustrates a new chapter for the Polk County Attorney's Office, following the previous county attorney, John Sarcone's 32-year term in office. Graham campaigned on a platform to improve racial and socioeconomic disparities in local criminal justice as well as increasing the use of juvenile diversion programs.


A marijuana diversion program

One of her first prerogatives was to end the current process used to prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases. While the first offense is classified as a misdemeanor, the punishment issued was up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine. After taking office Graham implemented a program that dismisses an individual’s first-offense charge if they undergo a substance use evaluation and complete any recommended treatments. In the first nine months of the marijuana diversion program 237 people completed the program and had their charges dismissed, helping these individuals to avoid the hefty fines and the stigma of a criminal record. Of this program Graham said, “I would have preferred not to prosecute these crimes at all because we have many other higher priorities in my opinion in this office."


The local landscape

To understand why Graham thought it was so important to create a marijuana diversion program it is crucial to understand the state of criminal justice and marijuana prosecution in Iowa. A study released by the ACLU in 2020 revealed that Iowa ranked as the fifth- worst state for racial disparities in marijuana arrests. The study showed that in Iowa, Black individuals make up just 4% of the population. However Black Iowans are 7.3 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges and 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than white Iowans. Graham has seen this firsthand, prior to being elected as Polk County Attorney she worked in private practice as a court appointed defense attorney for individuals who were unable to afford an attorney.


In recent years diversion programs have been popping up in cities across the United States. These can have profound effects on not only the local community but also on the individual level for each person who is given the opportunity to learn and grow from a mistake. But for some agencies creating and implementing an effective diversion program may seem out of reach. Whether that’s due to a limited budget, few local resources or a never-ending caseload Advent eLearning can help.


Contact Advent eLearning

If you’re interested in how Advent eLearning can benefit your agency and your clients, click here to visit our website. You can review Advent eLearning programs with no costs or obligations for your organization. Contact us today for a trial account or a guided demonstration.


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