RENO COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — Drug convictions could soon change for people in Reno County. Thanks to recent legislation, smaller counties now have a chance to implement new drug diversion programs.

For about 20 years, state funding has been available through Senate Bill 123. This funding helps people get the treatment they need for substance abuse, but this comes after a conviction making it difficult for people to get back on their feet when recovering.

“The purpose of us prosecuting possession crimes, in my opinion, is not to obtain convictions, but it is to get that person the help that they need,” said Reno County District Attorney Thomas Stanton.

Stanton said that currently, if a person is convicted of a first-time drug offense, they are prosecuted and stuck with a conviction on their record.

“A first-time offense, I think people should get rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration,” said Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett introduced legislation to lawmakers to make it easier for smaller counties to have diversion programs.

“Big jurisdictions at larger budgets they can afford to hire more folks because we have more cases, and it’s worth it,” said Bennett.

The legislation passed in May 2021, and now counties like Reno are working to make the program a reality.

“You can contract with or sign an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with your local community corrections, court services, and probation officers, and they can supervise them for you,” said Bennett.

Community Corrections for the program will be funded with money allocated by the legislature.

If people enter the program, they will have access to social workers, treatment, and more, which in turn could mean fewer people in the jail system.

“That’s a win-win for the justice system, it’s a win for them, it’s a win for my office, it’s a win for the community,” said Stanton.

The Reno County drug diversion program is expected to start in 2024.

Sedgwick County has an agreement with community corrections that was supposed to start a year and a half ago but was delayed due to COVID-19.

Bennett said they hope to start it in January 2023.