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'Drug court' recommended for Carbon County

Published May 17. 2013 05:03PM

The best way to reduce Carbon County's 94 percent repeat offender rate is to funnel those accused of substance abuse related crimes through a separate "drug court," a volunteer group told the county Prison Board Wednesday.

Dr. Leta Thompson of the Carbon County Correctional Facility Research Committee, recommended the drug court, along with other programs, as effective ways to curb the county's high recidivism rate. Drug addiction is the driving force behind the extraordinary number of repeat offenders, Thompson said.

Drug courts handle only inmates with drug problems. Instead of going through a traditional court, a defendant going through drug court would be kept under supervision and in treatment long enough for that treatment to work. The defendants would also be held accountable for any crimes they have committed, and must meet their obligations to the court, to society, to their families and to themselves.

While under supervision, the defendants would be subject to random drug tests and would have their progress reviewed on a regular basis.

Thompson cited other counties that have saved significant sums through use of drug courts.

By reducing the rate from 94 percent to the national average of 60 percent, the county could save $3 million a year, she said.

The committee is a group of volunteers who initially approached the board in August 2012 with an offer to research and recommend solutions, free of charge. In the nine months since, the group has gathered as much information as possible, and used that data to make recommendations.

In addition to establishing a drug court, the group advised the board to put in place a drug and alcohol treatment program; hire a full-time mental health counselor; put more non-violent inmates on house arrest; and establish a day reporting center, allowing inmates to stay home while checking in each day, and getting as many qualified inmates on work release as possible.

She suggested that the county look to government grants to pay for the recommendations her group offered.

Although the board welcomed the recommendations and appreciated the time and effort put into them, its members have some concerns.

County Controller Robert Crampsie, said the recidivism problem is a "complex issue." He said some of the recommendations fall outside the prison board's realm, including the establishment of drug courts, day reporting centers and how many and which inmates are placed on house arrest.

Implementing even some of the recommendations, he said, is also a "matter of getting all the players at the same table."

County District Attorney Gary Dobias described the recommendations as "thorough and comprehensive." But the bottom line, he said, is having enough money to put the recommendations in place.

Dobias said he would distribute copies of the group's report and recommendations to those attending an upcoming meeting of the county Criminal Justice Advisory Board.

County Commissioners Chairman Wayne Nothstein questioned the effectiveness of short-term mental health counseling. County inmates are incarcerated for only up to two years. More often, their stays are much shorter.

Sheriff Dwight Nothstein said that since the state closed its mental institutions, prisons have become a "dumping ground" for the mentally ill. Further, he said, many inmates do not want help.

Commissioner William O'Gurek questioned the availability of grant money to implement the programs.

He pointed out that Gov. Tom Corbett has cut Community Block Grants, used to fund county human services, by 10 percent. Officials can move money from agency to agency, but there is still 10 percent less to go around.

O'Gurek offered an example:

"If we take $50,000 out of Mental Health and give it to Drug & Alcohol, the director of Mental Health would be forced to cut that program," he said.

"We're moving around 10 percent less than we had been getting, and that has an impact on the delivery of services that we can afford to do, regardless of what program it comes from," O'Gurek said.

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