Wesley Bell pushing to expand drug diversion programs

CLAYTON, Mo. – In his first news conference as St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, Wesley Bell says it’s time to expand diversion programs—rehab programs instead of convictions—for non-violent offenders with addiction and mental health issues.

“Programs of this type have been successful in other jurisdictions that prioritize these efforts and St. Louis County can become a new leader in this area,” Bell said.

Multiple community organizations have agreed to partner with Bell to take the first steps, including Affinia Healthcare, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Beyond Housing, and the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

“When non-violent offenders receive treatment, they are less likely to re-offend, which can help break the cycle of escalation,” Bell said.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Police Association hopes to be able to work with the new county prosecutor on tackling the ongoing opioid crisis.

"The St. Louis County Police Association welcomes Mr. Bell's approach to addressing the opioid epidemic and eagerly await clarity on his policy in regards to class d and e offenses,” said SLCPA president Joe Patterson.

Bell says his plan will reduce the prison population, leaving more resources to deal with violent crimes. However, Bell wouldn’t provide a yes or no answer when asked if he was considering reopening the Darren Wilson grand jury case.

“We're here to talk about expanding the diversionary program, which was a promise that we made during the election,” Bell said. “I don't have any other comments on other issues at this point. We're going to talk about this issue because it affects our entire region.”

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