Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/16/2004 08:08 AM Senate JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 451-THERAPEUTIC COURTS MR. DOUG WOOLIVER, administrative attorney for the Alaska Court System (ACS), explained that HB 451 was introduced by the House Rules Committee at the request of the ACS. It does two things: it extends the termination date of two pilot therapeutic court programs and it deletes a sunset clause on a superior court judge position that was added to the Anchorage bench in 2001. He noted that in 2001, Speaker Brian Porter introduced HB 172, which created two pilot felony DUI courts, one in Anchorage and one in Bethel. The purpose of the therapeutic courts was to combine intensive outpatient treatment with close court supervision in hope of significantly reducing the recidivism rate for people with drug and alcohol related problems. These programs have had great success. Judge Wanamaker oversees the therapeutic court in Anchorage at the district court level. His program shows recidivism rates of 25 percent. The more standard rate for people in that category is 70 percent. Speaker Porter wanted to apply that same success to felony level offenders so introduced HB 172. As part of that legislation, the Alaska Judicial Council was tasked with studying the effectiveness of the program, which is important because those programs are labor-intensive for ACS. Unfortunately, the bill required a report in July of 2005, almost a year after the two therapeutic courts will have closed. HB 451 will allow the two programs to continue until July of 2006 to give the legislature a chance to see whether they are effective. The bill also deletes the sunset clause that was put on the Anchorage superior court judge position in the last committee of referral. The superior court had not had a new judge position since 1984, therefore HB 172 was used as the vehicle to create that position to handle the therapeutic court and to handle the increase caseload in Anchorage. Since 1984, Anchorage has seen a 100 percent increase in its felony caseload. At the same time, Representative Rokeberg had sponsored several bills related to felony DUIs and other DUI changes. ACS cannot afford to lose that judge and go back to its 1984 level of coverage. SENATOR FRENCH said he attended two graduations at the therapeutic court and was very impressed by the program. He asked whether the report will provide information on how those graduates are doing six months later. MR. WOOLIVER said the Alaska Judicial Council also wants that information and Judge Wanamaker has statistics on people who have been out of the program for two or three years. SENATOR OGAN asked if the study will contain a cost analysis that includes the savings from the lower recidivism rate. TAPE 04-43, SIDE A MR. WOOLIVER said that information will also be included. He noted the two judges who run the programs are available to testify on-line. MS. SALLY RUSSELL, Therapeutic Court Project Coordinator in Bethel, informed members that Judge Devaney had to leave for a 9:30 hearing so she would testify in his place. She said Judge Devaney wanted to pass on that the Bethel Therapeutic Court has been wildly successful and has changed people's lives. They hope the program will go on forever. ANCHORAGE SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE STEPHANIE JOANNIDES told members she presides over the felony DUI and felony drug court. The drug court model has been used on a national level since the 1980s. Throughout her legal career as a prosecutor in Juneau and as a judge in Anchorage, she has heard many lawyers and judges express frustration about seeing the same people in court over and over, even though they receive longer jail terms with each successive offense. She believes our society cannot afford to not use therapeutic courts from the standpoint of economics and public safety. The drug court model is based on the theory that insanity is behaving the same way repeatedly and expecting different results. The drug court model is working across the country. When Alaska began its first drug court in 2001, approximately 400 were in operation. Because of its overwhelming success nationwide, over 1,000 drug courts are now operating around the country. JUDGE JOANNIDES explained that in therapeutic court, people are held accountable. The drug court model forces the workers from different agencies to sit at the same table and come up with an effective plan to make sure the person on probation will actually succeed. The offender appears before her every week and the probation officer reports to her immediately if the offender is not adhering to the requirements of the program. In addition, the treatment provider gives her information. SENATOR OGAN said he believes extending the program is worthwhile because it works for some people. He then moved HB 451 from committee. CHAIR SEEKINS announced that without objection, HB 451 had moved from committee. He thanked Judge Joannides for her testimony and adjourned the meeting at 10:00 a.m.