Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/21/2004 08:05 AM Senate JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HCR 29am-SUPPORT THERAPEUTIC COURTS MR. JOHN BITTNER, staff to Representative Cheryl Heinze, sponsor of HCR 29, gave the following summary of the resolution. Alcoholism in Alaska is a serious and immediate problem. Conventional methods of dealing with repeat offenders under the influence of alcohol are not effective and are prohibitively expensive. Alcoholism is a mental as well as a physical disease and it needs to be treated as such if we are to have any hope of rehabilitating people with drug and alcohol problems effectively and with the minimum burden to the state and its citizens. The daily cost of the wellness court is about $22 a day, which works out to around $11,000 over the 18-month treatment period. Out of this the state pays around $6,100 on average. The rest of the cost is paid for by the person receiving treatment. The average cost of traditional incarceration is over $60,000 for 18 months, or roughly $113 per day. Traditionally, alcoholics who are incarcerated tend not to receive effective treatment for their addictions while they are in jail. While the percent of alcohol and drug abusers who have been incarcerated and subsequently rearrested after their release is somewhere around 67 percent nationwide, the percentage of wellness court graduates rearrested after their release is around 25 percent. This disparity in success rate is attributed to the use of maltrexon, a drug that inhibits alcohol cravings, coupled with community based treatment programs and cognitive behavioral therapy. People with substance abuse problems aren't going to be helped by locking them away with few, if any, treatment options and then releasing them after they have served their time. The best way we have of treating people with addictions is the therapeutic courts. HCR 29 asks the legislature to show its support for therapeutic courts and reducing DUI crimes. It also asks the Department of Law and the Public Defender Agency to actually participate in the start-up of therapeutic courts in areas with high incidences of DUI offenders and local support for therapeutic courts. They are effective, inexpensive, and easy to implement. Thank you. CHAIR SEEKINS asked if the legislature recently passed legislation that extended funding for therapeutic courts. SENATOR FRENCH said it passed legislation that extends the sunset date of the therapeutic court to make sure the legislature gets a final report before making a decision on whether to continue the program. CHAIR SEEKINS said he has heard no opposition to therapeutic courts. SENATOR OGAN asked why specific communities for new therapeutic courts are listed on page 2, line 5. MR. BITTNER said he believes that Fairbanks and Ketchikan were included because of their sizes. Juneau and several other cities already have therapeutic courts or are actively establishing them. The plan is to put the courts in areas with the highest incidence of DUI crimes. SENATOR OGAN said he was under the impression that the existing therapeutic courts are a pilot program so it might be schizophrenic for the legislature to support more of them before the report about whether or not the program has been successful is completed. He suggested requiring such a report before allowing new courts to be established. SENATOR ELLIS joined the committee. SENATOR OGAN expressed concern that HCR 29am is inconsistent with the legislature's prior actions. CHAIR SEEKINS said the resolution would provide support but no funding. MS. JANET McCABE, speaking for Partners for Progress, stated support for HCR 29am. She explained: There are therapeutic courts at the Superior Court felony level, and those are the ones that of course you recently funded. Then there's Judge Wanamacher's court and the courts at the misdemeanor level and Ketchikan has started and is underway and Fairbanks is very interested and with the court system's assistance, we are applying for a national highway safety grant to fund those courts so I hope that clarifies the finance question... This resolution supports the development, particularly of Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Juneau, because those are places that have been strongly interested and Juneau is underway - and Ketchikan. And then it talks about other communities where there's a large population of DUI offenders, and where there's a lot of support for therapeutic courts. The resolution asks the district attorneys, public defenders, and relevant agencies to assist in therapeutic court development and it notes that there are grant funds that have been applied for these DUI courts through the National Institute for Transportation Safety. Regarding data, for the wellness court we now have three years of solid data from Judge Wanamacher's wellness court in Anchorage and this is data prepared and put together by an impartial source, the University of Alaska, and it's based on court records so it's not anecdotal. It shows that therapeutic courts have been at least three times as effective as incarceration in preventing repeat alcohol crimes. Jailing alcoholic criminals is an expensive revolving door. Seventy-five percent of repeat alcoholic offenders get out of jail and reoffend again, and that also is solid data. Therapeutic courts stop this cycle by a process that Judge Wanamacher describes as quote, getting the alcohol out of the alcoholic. People spend 18 months in the court program where they are required to be employed, they are monitored for sobriety, they undergo intensive treatment, including medical treatments - there's a medicine now that quells the intense craving that alcohol addicts have for alcohol. They are also required to visit the same judge repeatedly. They are applauded for success or put back in jail for a relapse for a few days. But basically, they're required to be responsible for themselves and they're monitored while they live successfully and work in the community. And when they finish the 18-month program, they are truly changed people. Our data shows that this is a lasting change. Therapeutic courts save money and prevent public harm. We urge you to pass this resolution, which encourages the development of therapeutic courts where there is both the need and a public interest. CHAIR SEEKINS referred to the language on page 2, line 2, and page 1, line 11, and suggested adding "for which federal funds are available". He asked Mr. Bittner if the intent is to use federal funds for the start-up of those programs. MR. BITTNER said it is. CHAIR SEEKINS noted that using federal funds for those projects would be consistent with the legislature's intent for the pilot program. SENATOR FRENCH pointed out that language pertaining to federal funds is already included in the third "whereas" clause. SENATOR OGAN moved HCR 29am from committee with individual recommendations and its attached fiscal note. CHAIR SEEKINS announced that without objection, the motion carried. He then adjourned the meeting.