GREENFIELD — A local nonprofit is poised to give out a record amount of money to groups dedicated to preventing drug crimes, with local offenders footing the bill.
Offender fees, charged to those convicted of alcohol- and drug-related crimes, funnel into local programs dedicated to drug prevention, education and enforcement. Those fees fell for five years after the county’s drug-task force disbanded, but with a renewed enforcement effort, officials say offender dollars are on track to hit a number not seen since 2010.
Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, which supports anti-drug programming in Hancock County, has kicked off its 2018 grant cycle and is prepared to give away $100,000 to county groups that support the same mission of combating substance abuse and crime.
The funding comes from the Local Drug-Free Community Fund, paid by offenders convicted of drug crimes as part of their punishment. The $100,000 comprises both the total officials expect to collect in 2017 and funds left over from previous years.
A state law penned in 1989 requires those dollars be reinvested in programs that strive to keep Hancock County’s residents clean and streets safe.
A judge can order someone convicted of drunken driving to pay up to $200; someone convicted of drug possession or drug dealing faces a pay a fee as a high as $1,000, said Tim Retherford, the director of the Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse.
Law enforcement officials say there’s a clear correlation between drug case filings and funding. And after years of steady decline — dealing and possession filings dropped from 67 in 2009 to 41 in 2014 — they’ve seen a welcome uptick in dollars for two years running. They’re headed back to where they once were, Retherford said.
After a city-county drug task force dissolved in 2010 during an investigation into missing drug-buy money, the number of drug cases filed each year dipped, and so did the fees from offenders ordered to pay up upon conviction.
Between 2007 and 2010, when the county’s drug task force was in full swing, the Local Drug Free Community Fund collected an average of $90,000 a year.
In 2011 — the first year without the task force — offender fees fell to $70,000 and continued to decline with each passing year, reaching their lowest point at $51,000 in 2014.
In 2015, calling the county’s drug problem an emergency, the county council green-lighted the hiring of an undercover drug detective for the sheriff’s department. Last year, the Greenfield Police Department followed suit and dedicated an officer to investigating drug cases. There are now three officers between the two departments who work jointly to catch dealers.
That’s resulted in a spike in drug-dealing and possession cases — from 440 filed in 2015 to 688 filed last year — and more funding for Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse.
In the first seven months of 2017, $43,000 has been collected, records show. By year’s end, Retherford expects the total to fall between $70,000 and $80,000. The county hasn’t had that much offender-generated money to put toward programming since 2010.
Law enforcement officials admit the fund wasn’t on their minds when, two years ago, they announced a renewed, coordinated enforcement of fighting drug crimes.
After seeing a rise in overdose deaths linked to heroin abuse, local law enforcement wanted to get dealers off the streets in order to save lives, Hancock Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart said. They weren’t looking to turn a profit off those criminals, and they still aren’t, he said; they just want those folks off the streets.
But it seems fitting, Burkhart said, that those same offenders should have pay to help to help better the community where they left a dark mark.
All dollars paid into the Local Drug-Free Community Fund are divided, with 25 percent of the money going to state agencies and 75 percent staying in the county where the money was collected.
Locally, the dollars have covered all manner of prevention and treatment efforts Retherford said. Those include addiction support groups like Celebrate Recovery at Brandywine Community Church, court-ordered treatment programs for people charged with drug and alcohol offenses and overtime pay for police officers patrolling with the county underage drinking task force.
The local sheriff’s department is often the benefactor of NASA funds, Burkhart said. Without the extra dollars, the officers wouldn’t have the resources to take on those extra patrols; and when they did, the efforts would come at taxpayers’ expense, he said.
And with so many new prevention and treatment groups popping up in light of the county’s heroin crisis, NASA’s leaders hope to this year’s grant cycle helps more groups than ever before, he added.
NASA will give away a record $100,000 for 2018 — all money collected in offenders fees in recent years — with the hope of boosting those efforts that are in their fledgling stages, said board member Dede Allender. They hope those groups in turn will help pull residents in need out of the oppressive cycle drug use can create.
But its important for the community to understand where the money funding these programs is coming from, Allender said. It’s the people who use and need the treatment programs who end up funding them, she said.
“In a way, the money stays in the system,” she said.