Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reliance on fees left drug courts underfunded

According to the Killeen Daily Herald ("Bell County making progress on drug court," May 12), the Lege did not provide enough funding for drug courts mandated by the 80th Texas Legislature in 2007, putting some counties in the position of possibly losing state probation funds:
A mandate came out of the last legislative session, requiring counties with a population of more than 200,000 to create a drug court.

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.
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.

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.


Don Dickson said...

I saw a bill on today's House Calendar that would hit intoxication manslaughter offenders with an additional $300 charge to cover the cost of planting a memorial sign at the site of the offense.

We might just as well bill them every year for the cost of a prayer card and a bouquet of flowers. What a sad joke.

kaptinemo said...

More proofs of how financially unsustainable the DrugWar is. The "lock up the dopers and throw away the key!" party's over, the fiscal hangover's just begun after decades of wild spending, the bill has come due, and the tab has run out. Time for some very hard choices to be made, and soon.

Anonymous said...

We also have a Drug Court in our jurisdiction and have had one for the past four years that relies on the Governor's office for funding. The grant, which was supposed to be funded beginning September 1 of last year, was not funded until January of this year! The grant, because of limitations of collections statewide and the lack of funds from the Feds, has funds available only through June. What a way to run a program which has been successful in the diversion of offenders from the system and shows a highly successful lack of rearrest!