Personal Narrative: Taja

Related: Briggs v. Montgomery, 2:18-cv-02684

Taja, a 21-year-old African American woman, was a sophomore at Central Arizona College, studying social work. On October 7, 2016, Taja was a passenger in a car pulled over by police for making an improper turn. The police officer searched the occupants and found a small amount of marijuana in her purse. The amount was so small that it was not weighed. She was arrested for possession of marijuana.

In early 2017, Taja received a letter from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office informing her that she faced felony charges for the marijuana possession, buy could participate in the Treatment Assessment Screening Center (TASC) Diversion Program.  The letter falsely stated that, if convicted, she faced two years in jail, a $150,000 fine, plus an additional 80% surcharge. But a first time offender, such as Taja, cannot receive jail time for simple possession of marijuana and is not subject to the fine. Believing the false statements, Taja enrolled in the diversion program.

The program required drug and alcohol testing multiple times each week in Phoenix – an hour away from where she lived and studied. She didn’t have a car or money to travel back and forth. To comply, Taja was forced to drop out of school and move closer to the test site.  She found a part-time job at Target and paid the $150 orientation fee. Later, she was informed by her case manager that she needed to pay a $15 or $17 fee for each mandatory drug and alcohol test. Each time she was required to test, Ms. Collier sold her blood plasma for $20- $35 to pay for the tests. At one point, Taja was homeless and explained to the case manager that she was unable to pay for the test. The case manager responded, “Sorry to hear that you are going through this. I am hoping things get better for you. I also noticed that since you are on your FINAL NOTICE, any missed test past this point will result in program termination. So I am happy to hear that you are going to do whatever is possible to test next time you are required to test. Good Luck and hope everything works out for you.” She was never informed that she could start the program without paying for it, that she didn’t have to pay for the tests at the time she took them, nor that she could apply for a reduced fee.

In October 2017, TASC informed MCAO, that Taja failed the diversion program because she failed to submit to the mandatory tests. Felony charges were filed against her but at the preliminary hearing she was allowed to re-enroll into the diversion program. She was required to pay the $150 orientation fee again. She has to pay $667 to TASC to complete the program and is still required to pay for the mandatory tests, which are still required one to three times a week. She continues to sell her blood plasma to make payment.  TASC has failed to provide alternatives even with knowledge of her struggle.