Low funding may impair court’s ability to aid addicts | TheUnion.com

Low funding may impair court’s ability to aid addicts

John HartJudge John Darlington (left) speaks with Drug Court client Rick Dorton March 11 at the county courthouse in Nevada City.
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One by one, they take a chair next to Judge John Darlington.

They’ve already submitted clean drug tests in cups handed out before court convened, and the judge wants to know more about their progress.

Are they still working or attending school? Are they still attending treatment or self-help groups? How are their families?

One woman is still getting comfortable with the possibilities sobriety brings.

“It feels pretty good where I am now. It feels better all around,” she tells the judge. “I feel like a little kid in a whole new world.”

Another woman says she’s gradually reuniting with the three children she abandoned several years ago.

“That’s both the scary part of recovery and the good part – you get your family life back,” she said.

Darlington isn’t wearing a black robe and isn’t on the bench. His tone is encouraging and reassuring, and he joins the applause after each discussion.

“You are a judge, and they know it. They know you can send them to jail if they screw up, but I think that’s more relaxing for them and for me to sit down there and talk with them at their level, and see what’s going on with their lives,” he said later.

This is Nevada County Drug Court, which gives clients a chance – often a last chance – to avoid jail or prison and fight their addictions.

It’s considered holistic, but it also comes with costs, and officials are worried about its future after the state trimmed drug court budgets statewide in anticipation of a deficit.

With six months to go in a four-year state grant, the court’s final-year budget was trimmed from $133,000 to $108,000. It’s supposed to cover an assistant case manager’s pay and costs for clerical work, testing and treatment.

The clientele dropped from nearly 30 last spring to 12, partly because of funding cuts, and outpatient treatment for the remaining clients might be trimmed.

“It is a very worthwhile program, and it would be a shame to cut it back because of funding problems,” Darlington said.

The number of clients is down also because of Proposition 36.

In effect since July, the voter-passed initiative mandates treatment and probation for nonviolent drug offenders convicted of possession. In the pre-Proposition 36 world, some of those offenders might have gone to Drug Court, where clients face short jail stints for failing drug tests or violating court rules.

Court officials say the sanctions are the crucial difference from Proposition 36 and recognize that entrenched drug abusers are going to relapse.

Almost nine months in, the county’s Proposition 36 clientele is far lower than the 70 to 75 offenders projected early on, Darlington said.

Twenty-seven people arrested for drug possession have qualified for Proposition 36 Court. But 15 – often people found with drugs during traffic stops – are out-of-towners, and their cases are being handled in their home counties. Eleven of the 15 are from Placer County.

As a result, Drug Court officials hope they can tap leftover Proposition 36 funds to sustain Drug Court. First, they need state permission.

“This is all brand-new stuff, and nobody has ever tried to do it before, as far as I know,” Darlington said. “Unless somebody wants to give us $100,000 to run our Drug Court for a year, that’s pretty much what we’re left with.”

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