The Treatment Assessment Screening Center (TASC) and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery are being sued by Civil Rights Corps, a non-profit organization dedicated to challenging systemic injustice in the American legal system, following a year-long investigation. The recently-filed lawsuit alleges that TASC and Montgomery have a relationship that is designed to make money rather than help those convicted of drug use or possession.
The lawsuit asks the Arizona U.S. District Court to certify the case as a class action lawsuit and requests that damages be paid to those that have been harmed by the duo’s policy, Phoenix New Times reports.
Dami Animashaun, lead counsel for Civil Rights Corps, said, “The marijuana diversion program operated by TASC, Inc. and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office represents our two-tiered legal system at its worst. Wealthy people buy their way off diversion quickly, while poor people risk being expelled from the program and prosecuted for a felony solely because they cannot afford to pay.”
When someone is arrested for drug possession, a letter from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is sent informing the defendant that they could be prosecuted and serve jail time. The letter is even sent to those that are first-time offenders.
One person mentioned in the lawsuit, Taja Collier, was arrested with an amount of marijuana in her purse that was so miniscule it wasn’t even weighed. She received a letter offering her two options: entrance into TASC or the potential of being faced with a felony for marijuana possession – which could have returned a sentence of up to two years in jail.
She struggled to gather the $150 fee to enter the TASC program, and continued to struggle to pay the $15 fee per drug test. She worked part-time as she was a college student prior to the arrest and ended up donating plasma to make her payments. Her TASC case manager was made aware of the financial difficulty, but “never told her that she could apply for a reduced fee.”
Due to financial difficulty, Collier became homeless and flunked out of TASC. Felony charges were filed against her.
As much as 80% of TASC participants pay as much as $1,300 for the program. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) receives $650 for each person that completes the program. The fee netted the MCAO over $1 million for fiscal year June 2015 through July 2016.
The funds received from the program’s participants can be used to help those that can’t pay, but it seems that the MCAO and TASC don’t use that option for “any person, regardless of financial circumstance.”
Reduced fees seem to be available only to those that have near zero income.