Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/09/2004 01:44 PM House FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 451 An Act relating to therapeutic courts; and providing for an effective date. DOUG WOOLIVER, ALASKA COURT SYSTEM, ANCHORAGE, stated that HB 451 would extend the termination date for two pilot therapeutic court programs until after a planned study of the Courts had been completed and reviewed by the Legislature. The bill removes a sunset clause to the Anchorage Superior Court judge position that was added to administer one of the therapeutic courts. In 2001, the Legislature passed HB 172, which established felony-level Therapeutic Courts in Anchorage and Bethel. Each Court was set up as a pilot program scheduled to run for three years. The Anchorage Court admits those with a felony conviction for driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, inhalant, or controlled substance (DUI). The Bethel Court admits those convicted of either felony DUI or certain felony drug offenses. The findings section of HB 172 explains the purpose of the Courts: The purposes of Therapeutic courts are lasting sobriety of offenders, protection of society from alcohol-related and drug-related crime, prompt payment of restitution to victims of crimes, effective interaction and use of resources among criminal justice and community agencies, and long-term reduction of costs relating to arrest, trial, and incarceration. Mr. Wooliver stated that in order to determine the effectiveness of the Courts, the Judicial Council was charged with evaluating them and publishing a study for legislative review. Unfortunately, both the Anchorage and Bethel programs sunset before the evaluation is scheduled to be complete and because the report is to be published in July, before the Legislature has an opportunity to review the evaluation. If the Legislature looks at the evaluation study and decides that the programs should continue, it would be too late and both programs would have ended more than a year earlier. In order to fix that problem, HB 451 would extend the termination date of the pilot program until after the Legislature has had an opportunity to review the effectiveness. HB 451 removes a sunset clause from HB 172 that would terminate the Anchorage Superior Court judge position added by the bill. The new judge was necessary not only to do the work of the Therapeutic Court but also to help absorb the growing felony caseload in Anchorage. The sunset clause would take effect this summer at the same time the Therapeutic Court program was scheduled to end. Not only will that mean the end of the felony Therapeutic Court, also mean that Anchorage will have one less judge for other Superior Court work. The Therapeutic Court judge in Anchorage spends most of her time on general Superior Court work unrelated to therapeutic court cases. If the Judicial System looses the judicial position, it will impact all Superior Court cases in Anchorage. Mr. Wooliver concluded that the loss of a Superior Court judge in Anchorage would return the State to the number of judges initially established in 1984. Since that time, the felony caseload in Anchorage has increased approximately 100%. Alaska cannot afford to lose a Superior Court position in Anchorage and to return to a level of judicial coverage that was appropriate 20 years ago. JUDGE STEPHANIE JOANNIDES, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ALASKA COURT SYSTEM, ANCHORAGE, voiced her frustration with sentencing more and more people for longer periods of time when they continue to re-offend. She claimed that the State can no longer afford to keep doing that both economically and from a public safety perspective. The State must look at new ways of doing business. Because of that frustration, judges, courts and lawyers have the realization that something must be done about the problem. The Drug Court model was first used in Florida in the 1980's. Since then, the original model was so successful that now there are over 1,000 across the country. Five years ago, there were only about 400 in operation. She reiterated that currently, there are over 1,000 drug court models and that is the model the Anchorage Court system uses. Judge Joannides emphasized the success rate of people in that program. There are mothers that are having "clean and sober" babies that might have otherwise had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), parents learning how to better interact with their children and offenders are staying clean and sober for longer periods of time. She requested that members come to observe the Court in Anchorage to better witness the strengths of the program. JUDGE LEONARD DEVANEY, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ALASKA COURT SYSTEM, BETHEL, echoed sentiments made by Judge Joannides and stated that the Therapeutic Court in Bethel is having a great success rate. He advised that nearly 100% of the crimes in that area are alcohol related and the results of the Court has been very good. Judge Devaney noted that the Bethel Court has only been in existence for about 18 months. He pointed out that they are using $25 dollars per day for treatment as compared to the $100 dollars per day incarceration costs. The Courts in Bethel take many different substance abuse crime clients. Judge Devaney offered to answer questions of the Committee. Co-Chair Harris inquired about the recidivism rate and asked if there had been a "dramatic" drop in that number. Judge Joannides replied that it would be premature to provide those statistics. Almost 2/3 of people in her court were re-offenders; in other words, had a prior felony and then quickly reoffended. She stressed that they have seen success in that population and on a national level, the success has been promising. She understood that it is difficult to convince members without the "hard" numbers available but reiterated that it is early in the program to determine. The people in that program could be serving from 12 to 18 months and those people are just beginning to get back into their community. She pointed out that many people in the program could not have made it eighteen months without picking up another felony DUI and that information is promising. Judge Devaney reiterated that the Bethel program started later and stated that only seven people had graduated from the program to date. He pointed out that they would need another year or two to determine the recidivism rate. There is success being seen but the number is difficult to quantify at this point. Co-Chair Harris inquired about using an "implant" or other device. Judge Joannides responded that Anchorage is not using any type of implant with the offenders in the program. They do use other tools to monitor sobriety. Some of the clients are on naltrexone but that is not required for everyone in the program. Some are monitored using a sobritor attachment to test them for alcohol consumption. She added that these people are tested 1-5 times a week, with a minimum of 3. Judge Devaney noted that Bethel does use naltrexone if the doctor prescribes it and it is used for six months. They take it at treatment five days a week and then on the weekends, the participants come in for breath tests. In Bethel, there is no electronic monitoring, as the infrastructure in Bethel does not allow for the use of the scram. Representative Fate inquired if preliminary data had been collected. Mr. Wooliver responded that it is and is an important aspect of HB 172, as a direction to Judicial Council to undertake a long-term study and journaling the statistics. Representative Foster MOVED to report HB 451 out of Committee with individual recommendations and with the attached fiscal notes. There being NO OBJECTION, it was so ordered. HB 451 was reported out of Committee with a "do pass" recommendation and with a new fiscal note by the Alaska Court System, zero note #1 by the Department of Administration, zero note #2 by the Department of Corrections, zero note #3 by the Department of Health & Social Services and zero note #4 by the Department of Law.