HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Courts Need More Funding, Not Less
Pubdate: Tue, 10 May 2005
Source: Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC)
Copyright: 2005 The Herald-Sun


A state Senate proposal to trim $4 million from Durham's judicial system to 
help close a billion dollar state budget shortfall might be penny wise, but 
it's pound foolish.

If approved, the Senate's plan would cut the heart out of an innovative 
sentencing program and several drug treatment courts -- adult, youth and 
family -- used to help addicts and their families overcome addictions and 
associated problems. Since state lawmakers apparently don't know it, 
someone needs to tell them that it costs a lot less to treat drug 
addictions than it does to put nonviolent addicts in prison.

In addition, Durham's sentencing program is said to save $1.6 million a 
year by coming up with alternatives to prison for low-level, non-violent 
criminals. And when you consider Peter Baker's point that it costs $24,000 
a year to imprison someone versus $2,000 to treat a participant in the 
adult drug treatment program he directs, then continuing funding for the 
program starts to look like a no-brainer.

For local court officials, the Senate's plan must feel doubly painful 
because Durham's court system should be getting more state money, not less.

Officials have long contended the state inadequately funds the local 
judicial system. That argument is supported by a recent study by the Durham 
Roundtable, a group of citizens who have done admirable research into 
Durham crime, its causes and potential solutions.

The Roundtable's report charges that the local courts are severely 
under-funded, which means cases languish in the system too long. That 
contributes to Durham's crime problem -- and so would budget cuts to 
Durham's drug treatment programs.

If drug addicts aren't being treated, then they remain on the streets, 
committing crimes to support their habits, creating new crime victims in 
the process and adding to Durham's reputation as a haven for crime and drugs.

"It's shortsighted to think they will save money by eliminating this 
program," said District Court Judge Richard G. Chaney, who presides over 
Durham's adult treatment court. We agree.

In fact, the more we learn about the Senate budget, which also cuts 
Medicaid recipients from the rolls and increases taxes and fees on the 
lower and middle class, the more we hope the state House can present a more 
balanced alternative.
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