Pubdate: Sun, 11 May 2008
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2008 Amarillo Globe-News
Authors: John B. Board, and Hal Miner
Note: John B. Board is judge of the 181st State District Court and 
Hal Miner is judge of the 47th District Court.
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Panhandle Needs - And Will Get - Critical Addition

We are concerned, after reading a recent article,  editorial and 
letters to the editor, that there are  some misconceptions and 
misunderstandings regarding  recent legislation providing for the 
funding of drug  courts and regarding the ongoing efforts in our 
region  to seek funding for the implementation of such a court  or courts.

The 2007 Legislature has recognized a growing drug  problem in Texas. 
Our region is no exception.

For example, in Potter County alone, there were  approximately 597 
new drug possession cases filed in  2007 - fewer actually than in 
2006, when approximately  613 new cases were filed. These numbers do 
not include  those cases filed for possession with intent 
to  deliver. Although a multitude of factors would have to  be 
applied to know how many of these defendants would  qualify for drug 
court; these numbers do illustrate the  drug problem in our area.

The Legislature further recognized the success of problem solving 
specialty courts already operating in the state and successfully 
addressing this problem. As a result, they enacted Chapter 469 of the 
Health and Safety Code - "Drug Court Programs." The legislature 
mandated that any such program have the following characteristics:

* The integration of alcohol and other drug treatment services in the 
processing of cases in the judicial system;

* The use of a nonadversarial approach involving prosecutors and 
defense attorneys to promote public safety and to protect the due 
process rights of program participants;

* Early identification and prompt placement of eligible participants 
in the program;

* Access to a continuum of alcohol, drug and other related treatment 
and rehabilitative services;

* Monitoring of abstinence through weekly alcohol and other drug testing;

* A coordinated strategy to govern program responses to participants' 

* Ongoing judicial interaction with program participants;

* Monitoring and evaluation of program goals and effectiveness;

* Continuing interdisciplinary education to promote effective program 
planning, implementation, and operations;

* Development of partnerships with public agencies and community organizations.

The legislation made such programs mandatory for counties with a 
population of more than 200,000. Therefore, neither Potter nor 
Randall County are required to implement a program at this time. 
However, the legislation provided that commissioners courts of any 
county may voluntarily establish a drug court program. Recognizing 
that it is often beneficial for smaller counties to pool resources, 
the legislation provides that: "The commissioners courts of three or 
more counties ... may elect to establish a regional drug court program..."

Therefore, an alliance between Potter and Randall counties would not 
be sufficient - another county would have to be involved to form a 
"regional program."

It seems that some have tried to paint this as a Potter County vs. 
Randall County matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each 
and every elected official and department head who has discussed the 
prospect has indicated a willingness to review any proposed program 
with an open mind. In fact, there have been no negative comments from 
anyone who has been approached.

Obviously, Armstrong County would be the preferred third county to 
form the regional program. Armstrong County is part of the 47th 
Judicial District and the 47th District Attorney prosecutes criminal 
actions arising in Armstrong County. Additionally, our Community 
Supervision and Corrections Department (Probation) services Potter, 
Randall and Armstrong Counties.

Armstrong County Judge Hugh Reed has been contacted and has expressed 
a willingness to review and consider any proposals.

As noted above, the Legislature has mandated that any program 
implemented have a strong judicial and probation component. Both the 
local Judiciary and Probation Department are committed to continued 
exploration and discussion among the various stakeholders toward the 
implementation of a drug court. We are currently studying the 
structures and methods of other successful, existing drug courts in the state.

A rough draft of a proposed Potter/Randall/Armstrong Drug Court 
Policies and Procedures has been prepared and will be presented to 
the various commissioners courts, district and county attorneys, 
councils of judges, defense bar, and other interested stakeholders in 
the near future, but well in time for the next funding cycle - yet to 
be announced.

In the event Randall County is awarded any grant money for 
exploration and planning, those funds will be used judiciously, if 
needed, to offset any costs associated with the exploration, planning 
and implementation - if approved - of a regional program.

While grant funds would be appreciated and welcomed, failure to 
obtain them will not result in shutting down the continued dialog 
between interested stakeholders in this region.

As the Amarillo Globe-News editorial noted, a drug court is one 
potentially effective tool available to our region that could provide 
rehabilitation and supervision to those addicted to drugs and 
alcohol, while providing public safety and savings to our taxpayers.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom