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ADDITIONAL COLLIN COUNTY DRUG/ DWI COURTS ON THE WAY?

I noticed a newspaper article last week that discussed the potential for new and additional DWI/ drug courts for Collin County.  I was pleased to read that an additional court of this nature might be established in Collin County.

DWI/ drug courts are specialized programs for people who agree to be accepted into the program.  The DWI/drug court provides a level of intense supervision and accountability for those in the program that is above and beyond the sort of post conviction supervision typcially provided to probationers.

 

The DWI/drug courts are a win- win. What I mean by win-win is that the taxpayers, those funding the court system, in terms of reduced costs to the taxpayer.  The taxpayers win because by identifying appropriate candidates for the program, these type of courts can reduce the rate of recidivism for its graduates. When DWI/ drug courts graduate people who become clean and sober, those people resume their lives as working, taxpaying productive members of society. 

It is a win for the people in the DWI/drug court programs as wel,l because if they abide by the strict terms of the DWI/drug court they avoid harsher criminal penalties.  More importantly, they graduate and move on with their lives. The people in DWI/drug court are people whose drug and alochol problems have become legal problems.   

The DWI/ drug court programs appear to be an efficient use of taxpayer money in terms of dollars spend versus dollars saved.  Without the programs, many of the same people will return to court again and again each time at a cost to the limited resources of the Collin County court system .

Judge aims to expand drug court

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 9:57 AM CST
The number of drug courts in Collin County may be increased from four to five if Judge Ray Wheless of Collin County’s 366th District Court receives a grant for a specialized coordinator position.

Wheless requested authorization to apply for the governor’s grant at the regular commissioners court meeting on Monday. The grant would provide a one year, full-time drug court coordinator to serve all four of the drug courts at the felony and misdemeanor levels. It would also allow for the creation of a new veterans’ treatment program through Judge John Roach Jr.’s 296th district court.

“With wars ending, lots of veterans will be coming home with issues. We need this grant to help fund this program and run [it] on a day to day basis,” Wheless said.

Although the grant would provide approximately $58,000 to cover the position’s entire salary, commissioners questioned what the county’s monetary requirements would be in terms of office space, furniture and technology, as well as what the chances of receiving the grant in subsequent years would be.

Wheless said it is very likely that future grants would be offered and that he would be willing to adjust the income to supplement any other costs, preventing the county from having to pay for anything.

The county’s four existing drug courts seek to address the underlying cause of DWIs and drug offenses while holding offenders accountable for their actions. Wheless started the county’s first drug court several years ago and introduced it at a felony level when he was appointed to the district court in 2009. To date, the program has produced approximately 200 graduates and creates a lower recidivism rate, he said.

Commissioners also questioned the validity of the new position and how effective the new grant-funded position would be in enabling the court to accept more participants.

“It currently looks like your court coordinator is handling about 40 participants at this point in your program. The application seems to suggest that in adding this position, the amount it will increase will be 10 more to 50,” Commissioner Duncan Webb said. “If we’re adding a full-time position but only adding the capacity by 10 people, where is the rest of the capacity going if we’re adding a full time person?”

Collin County Judge Keith Self asked how involved the judicial system and law enforcement should be when it comes to providing social services like drug courts, and related to a similar grant the Collin County Sheriff’s Department applied for earlier this month for a full-time victims advocate.

“We are statutorily required to have one [drug court]; now we have four and are going to five,” Self said. “This is really not a court judicial sort of function, now you are managing social programs with the power of the judiciary. Where do you think balance lies there? I’m questioning this boundary between providing justice and running these social programs we are getting both our law enforcement and our judiciary into.”

Wheless said his court has had to limit the number of participants allowed into its program because of his current court coordinator’s inability to keep up with both those cases and the stream of other dockets that come through his court. Currently, about 65 percent of the offenders at Collin County’s detention center are there on drug or alcohol related charges, he said.

“It is a court judicial function to help improve the lives of our citizens,” Wheless said. “If we can take these people and turn them into complying, law-abiding citizens who pay taxes, that’s a judicial function.”

The new position would not only enable capacity in his court to increase but in other courts as well.

“Drug courts been proven effective to fight crime and have been proven to save the county money,” Wheless said. “We can lock up all of these people for DWI and drug offenses, but they’re going to get out and have the same issues. I think this is a court judicial function, in that I think our role here is to protect the community and ensure public safety, and we do that through the drug court.”

Another full-time court coordinator was already included in the county’s budget last year. Commissioner Matt Shaheen asked why that person could not pick up the drug court responsibilities. Wheless said the workload of the drug court coordinator position is one in that needs to stay exclusively within the realm of the program and not as a side job, as he anticipates the number of drug court cases to increase with the growth of the county.

“The person we want to hire we want to handle our drug court program and be the support staff for our court coordinators, but also have a background for treatment because that’s what they are going to be involved in very intimately,” Wheless said. “I don’t think a person with a masters [degree] in public administration is going to want to do those kind of things. This person will be doing grunt work, not pushing paper.”

Commissioner Joe Jaynes made the motion to approve the application request, under the condition that Wheless adjust the salary to pay for any other expenses related to the position. Commissioner Cheryl Williams seconded Jaynes’ motion that led to the unanimous vote and reiterated the conditions of the application.

“The concern is that when we get a one-time funding for salaries, that we are expected to pick that up in the future,” Williams said. “Any time those types of grants come to us we need to be exceptionally clear that they are going to be reviewed and … it could be a one year opportunity only.”