Tuesday, February 27, 2007

House Corrections hears more on drug courts

I'm just now listening this morning to the second half of yesterday's Texas House Corrections Committee meeting, and was interested to hear several criticisms lodged about HB 530 expanding drug courts in Texas to counties larger than 200,000. (See earlier Grits discussion of the bill.)

I support expanding drug courts, but some of the folks raising questions about HB 530, I thought, had particularly good points.

Magistrate Judge Joel Bennett from Travis County said the bill erred by failing to allow any violent offenders to participate in drug court programs. He said that's actually the group we should most want to include - those whose drug problems are causing significant anti-social behaviors. He said that Travis County's drug court originally did the same thing because it relied on federal money that had similar restrictions, but it was a bad idea and officials soon moved to change the policy once the program got going. He said since HB 530 relied on state money, there was no reason for the committee to make the same mistake.

Other significant critiques of the bill came from Dave Grasbaugh, a criminal defense attorney who supported drug courts but offered several caveats and cautions. For starters he objected to financing the bill through offender fees - he rightly said that offender fees have become so onerous many people already can't afford them, even with the best of intentions. The Legislature shouldn't continue to pile on fees, he said. I agree with that and believe that, given how much General Revenue (GR) money is saved in incarceration costs, drug courts deserve to be financed entirely out of GR.

Grasbaugh also wondered why the bill didn't allow drug courts for state jail felonies? Good question. He thought that might be a "sacred cow," but I can't understand why. The vast majority of felony drug possession cases are state jail felonies for less than a gram of a controlled substance. It makes little sense to me to exclude the vast majority of felony drug possession cases from participating in drug courts.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Grasbaugh suggested that there are significant, as-yet-unaddressed problems with drug courts diminishing the constitutional right of defendants. In many drug courts, he said, including in Travis County, defendants appear before judges without any defense counsel with them. Not only do they not have the right to remain silent, for example, they're expected to speak up and describe their addiction, etc. Grasbaugh said these constitutional rights issues have never been litigated and potentially pose a long-term challenge to the structure of drug courts that the Legislature, he predicted, must ultimately address.

The committee seemed generally favorable toward the drug court concept and I suspect they'll approve this bill, though with some modifications, hopefully, that address some of these concerns. We'll soon see. Stay tuned.


Catonya said...

re: Grasbaugh's concern about constitutional right of defendants...
"appear before judges without any defense counsel with them. Not only do they not have the right to remain silent, for example, they're expected to speak up and describe their addiction, etc."

While he makes a good point, it seems very similar to what takes place during a pre-sentencing investigation/interview. Defendants report to the probation office (before trial) and are required to answer questions about the pending charge(s).
Perhaps whatever makes the pre-sentence interview acceptable also addresses this concern in drug courts.
If not then pre-sentence interviews should also be raising a red flag.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's a good point, Cat. And actually I think those pretrial interviews are considered sort of a constitutional grey area, now that you mention it.

That said, that's not a reason not to try it, just to make every effort to accomodate the most obvious problems and know some parts of it may not survive down the line.

Anonymous said...

I am a licensed chemical dependency counselor (LCDC) and I am for the drug courts. But I want the constitutional rights of defendants protected. We have already gone way overboard in this area with the "drug war", and I am tired of it. I'm also tired of legislators acting like they are Santa Claus saving the criminal justice system by putting in more programs. They are the idiots that took the programs away in the first place, thus causing the current "prison overcrowding" crisis. How soon we forget!

Anonymous said...

2 Points of interest:
First-When is enough enough? How many chances does a felony drug offender get before he goes to prison? 2,3,4,5,6,....

Second-When will we start applying this ill-logic to Felony DWI, Assaultive behavior cases and Sex offenders?

Aren't they all behavioral problems with underlying chemical issues? So, when is enough enough and who makes the call?

By the way, dealing drugs has become an (almost) accepted way of life in this country, I for one tried numerous drugs growing up and don't blame any substance or society for my use. Call me crazy, but if you use, you should accept whatever happens to you. Given prison or freedom, I'd stop using and remain free. Some prefer to blame everyone else for their problems and DON'T want help!!!!

Anonymous said...

In 1975, I appeared before a probation officer in Bexar County. She asked me numerous questions regarding my drug use without any warning of it influencing her recommendation to the Judge. I told the truth and then heard her say, "I'm going to make an example of you to your rich little friends." It took me 24 years to get a Governors pardon and expungement. I chose to use drugs, to tell the truth and look what it got me. No prior criminal record and I received a probated sentence of 7 years. Think I feel sorry for those who make money selling drugs and then whine when they get caught? NOT HARDLY...but as long as it is profitable for treatment providers, they will beg for one MORE second chance for their clients. Time and time again!!

Anonymous said...

It's really funny, the money goes away from treatment to prisons. The counseling/treatment groups moan and moan. Now, the money is going to the treatment/counseling groups, want to guess who will be moaning now. Try the big prison building industry. It's called the cycle of me,me,me, all the while pretending to care about the drug user/society. How many millions and millions of dollars do you need in your bank accounts?

Unknown said...

repoding to anaymous:
You're a licensed chemical counselor? Thank God if I was ever in a position to be ordered to seek treatment I wouldn't be assigned to you.

While I am quite aware of the inherent risks of many ilegal drugs they don't hold a candle to the addiction rates among prescription drug users or deaths each year from LEGAL drugs.
There has never been a documented death from marijuana compare that to alcohol. Opiates provide surgery victims with severe pain relief despite the risk that, yes, some will abuse their original intent.

Regardless, the point should be moot anyways because if our government had followed the original intention of the Consitution and the Bill of Rights adults would still be able to injest whatever they choose into their bodies, sleep with whom they want, and could drive without Big Brother regulating seat belt use,helmet use and placing cameras at intersections to raise city coffers without any right to confront our accuser . I would expect someone like you to understand that drug use isn't always easy to stop and non violent offenders no more belong in prison than Ted Bundy would belong alone with a teenage daughter.

Also, compaing sex offenders and drunk rivers to drug users is a red herring that people lovve to throw yp when they know their argument doesn't stand alone.Instead of regulating others behavior why don't we try focusing on minding or own. Live it and let live, remember that phrase?We all need to practice it!


Unknown said...

I am a mother of a young girl who was placed in the drug court program back in aug. 2006. At the time she was placed in drug court, everyone keep telling me that it was a program that was setup to make them fail. I told all" How can that be? If you follow the rules and stay off the drugs, you wont fail" Well after going thru this program for the last 7 months I too am conviced that not only is it setup to make most fail, it is also setup to put more money in the pockets of those who say they are here to help our childern, But in reality are just trying to figure ways to get more federal grant money to fight the war on drugs. From where I stand and what I have seen the only thing being done is: Made us the family victims of the drug war thru the drug court system. I am not saying that the Drug Court idea is a BAD one,But that for over 75% of those placed on drug court it is a very unrealistic concept. They put people who have been on drugs since there teens, who have never been anywhere on time (even to make there drug deals) never been orgainized and most have no education,car,or home. Then they give them 6 or more places to be(which are spread out over all of farmington and aztec)and most times have to go to 3 or more places in one day(which again are spread out all over the towns of farmington and aztec)and wonder why they fail. I am all for fighting the war on drugs, and I am not knocking the drug court idea, Just the way it is run. The frist thing that should happen to anyone put on drug court would be to send them to a psych. to be evaluated and then placed into a 30 day drug rehab, where they will get the tools they need to learn how to handle all the stress the drug court system puts them thru. I am so tired of seeing the front page of the local news paper showing John Q Public 3 or 4 people who have grad.the drug court program and fail to mention the hundreds that have been put into prison. As far as the METH PILOT PROGRAM goes,I feel that is just another way to put money into the pockets of those who care more about money then saving our children from drugs.