Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Drug court set to begin June 1

Express Staff Writer

A drug court—which provides treatment rather than prison terms for chronic users of illegal drugs—is expected to be in operation in Blaine County by June 1.

Blaine will become the 31st of Idaho's 44 counties to have such a court.

Drug courts allow those charged with drug-related crimes to have their guilty pleas erased after successfully completing an 18-month treatment program. The option is not available to anyone charged with selling drugs or with a violent or sexually related felony, or to illegal aliens.

Members of the county's drug court development team obtained support for the program from the Blaine County commissioners after presenting the benefits of drug courts during a commission meeting Tuesday.

Fifth District Court Judge Robert Elgee told the commissioners that most local felonies, such as burglaries and embezzlements, are drug-related. He said nationwide studies have shown that prison terms generally do not cure the underlying problem.

"Over the past few decades, our focus has begun to shift and we're becoming much more aware of outcomes," Lincoln County Magistrate Judge Mark Ingram said.

Ingram said that nationwide, the recidivism rate for those serving sentences for drug-related crimes is 67 percent within three years of their release. He said the recidivism rate for people who have completed drug court programs is 16 percent after one year and 27 percent after two years.

Ingram said drug court programs are also far cheaper than prison. He said a study in Multnomah County, Ore., which includes Portland, showed the county saved $10 in court and prison costs for every $1 it spent on drug court.

Drug courts use the threat of prison terms to compel defendants to enter into 20 hours of treatment per week. They are subject to random urine tests and searches to ensure their compliance.

Blaine County's drug court will initially provide treatment for 10 people. It will be funded by state money, though it will require volunteer work by numerous people already involved in the local justice system.

"We're all passionate about this program," adult probation officer Jodie Fuller told the commissioners.

Elgee said county citizens have also offered to help with the program.

"A lot of people who are drug addicts don't feel that they are part of any community," he said. "When they see that there are people out there willing to help them, that helps with their problem."

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