Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/16/2004 08:08 AM Senate JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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.                                                                                             

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