A mandate came out of the last legislative session, requiring counties with a population of more than 200,000 to create a drug court.To me, this shows why it can be problematic to rely on probationers' fees to pay for criminal justice programming when they're already overloaded and too high. Paying for outpatient treatment is much cheaper than sending more folks to prison (which is paid for out of state general revenue), so in that sense it's penny wise but pound foolish to not do a drug court because probationers' fees won't cover it.
Bell County received $100,000 for the program, but [County Judge Jon] Burrows said this will not cover all the expenses incurred, for which they originally requested $240,000.
The county applied for $261,000 in state grants for the next fiscal year.
If the county does not implement a drug court, the state would withdraw funding from adult probation programs.
Burrows said the risk of not having state funds for those services is enough incentive to implement the drug court, even though he and other officials said a drug court was not needed in Bell County.
"Our judges were already doing the same thing a drug court would do," Burrows said in an interview last month. "This is another unfunded mandate on us for a program we didn't ask for, and our judges said we don't need."
Burrows said he contacted the governor's office on criminal justice, which told him the funding mechanism in the statute failed to generate enough funds for all Texas counties.
Todd Jermstad, interim director for Bell County's judicial district Community Supervision and Corrections Department, created Bell County's drug court plan with Judge Rick Morris of the 169th District Court.
"There are still grants that can be disbursed, that free up funding for this year through August," Jermstad said. "The biggest need is for outpatient treatment, but the state did not provide enough money for that."
Drug court will begin as soon as the county receives grants for it.
We'll see what the conference committee on the budget comes up with, but I'm somewhat concerned that the 81st Legislature hasn't included enough resources to make up this shortfall and pay for necessary treatment programs. That leaves new Texas stimulus funds for law-enforcement grants as the main available source for making up that amount. That money will be distributed entirely at the Governor's discretion.