Researchers from the UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health served as the academic partner for the City of Madison Police Department (MPD) Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative (MARI). MARI was made possible when the MPD was awarded a U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance Smart Policing Initiative grant in 2016 to create a novel approach to addressing opioid-related addiction, addiction-related crime, and the increasing occurrence of fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the Madison community.

MARI was a law enforcement–led, pre-arrest diversion-to-treatment program that involved community partners working together to offer treatment instead of punishment to adults with substance use disorders (SUD). The MARI program operated from September 2017-August 2020 and offered persons involved in certain non-violent drug-use related crimes treatment instead of jail. Those eligible were assessed by a counselor to determine eligibility to enter a 6-month addiction treatment program. Successful completion of the program with no new criminal charges helped people struggling with SUD find recovery while having initial criminal charges voided or held in abeyance.

A recent study published in the Journal of Substance Use and Addiction Treatment, “Offering recovery rather than punishment: Implementation of a law enforcement-led, pre-arrest diversion to treatment program for adults with substance use disorders,” highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary, team-based approach and regular interim evaluations to designing, implementing, and fine-tuning a successful program.

The collaborative effort of MPD, UW researchers, clinical, public health, and government agencies was essential to the implementation and success of MARI. Training of the police officer workforce and collaboration with clinical partners for treatment and peer support contributed to the success of MARI. Interim evaluations and community partner feedback informed program adjustments to increase participant enrollment, retention, and diversity, streamline the referral processes, and transition to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the study.

Of 263 eligible adults enrolled into the program, 160 engaged with the program and were referred to tailored treatment after evaluation. One hundred participants completed the MARI program.

Mary Henningfield

Mary Henningfield, PhD, is a principal investigator for the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative.

According to Mary Henningfield, PhD, who served as a PI for MARI, pre-arrest diversion programs such as MARI have the potential to reduce crime, overdoses, and other community harms.

“The successful implementation of MARI highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary approach and regular, deliberate assessments with interim feedback in creating an efficient, effective and sustainable initiative,” adds Henningfield.

The success of the MARI pilot program led to the launch of the Madison Area Addiction Recovery Initiative (MAARI) in September 2020. MAARI is one of three flagship diversion programs with MPD. The current program offers help for persons living with SUD who have committed eligible, non-violent offenses. The program offers 6 months of individualized treatment and coaching to participants. Participants must complete the program for non-prosecution of the charges they would have faced.

Learn more about the City of Madison Police Department’s current diversion and deflection programs.

Published: February 2024