June 11, 2013 9:58:32 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi drug courts face steep budget cuts in the coming year, after demand outstripped funding.
The Drug Court Advisory Committee voted Friday to cut overall funding by 42 percent, or almost $3.3 million, for the year that begins July 1, said Kevin Lackey, director of the state Administrative Office of Courts.
Funding for felony drug courts for adults will be cut 25 percent to $3.16 million. Juvenile and family drug courts will be cut 58 percent to $1.23 million. The state will cut all of the $375,000 it sent last year to misdemeanor-level drug courts operated by cities and counties.
People assigned to drug court undergo treatment and counseling, combined with frequent court appearances. Those who complete the program can see charges dismissed or sentences and fines reduced.
Lackey said some courts may get local funds to make up the difference.
He said a fund that pays for drug courts is running out money. The state assesses a $10 fee on criminal convictions, including traffic tickets. The charge brings in about $4 million a year, which was plenty of money when the state first started rolling out drug courts, and a large balance built up.
But all 22 of the state's circuit courts now have felony-level drug courts, to go along with 13 juvenile drug courts. The system now costs $7.6 million a year to run.
"In 2008, the Legislature wanted drug courts, statewide, so we began an aggressive expansion campaign and can finally boast of being just one of a handful of states with drug courts statewide," State Drug Court Coordinator Joey Craft told The Clarion-Ledger.
In recent years, the state made ends meet by using built-up money from the fund, but accumulated savings ran out. The Legislature also transferred $2 million from the fund to pay for circuit and appellate court funding, Lackey said.
The funding reductions are likely to hit juvenile drug courts the hardest.
"Their cost per client is higher because they don't have the ability to bill their clients for their treatment," Lackey said.
The number of drug court participants has climbed from 1,821 in 2008 to about 3,500 today. Officials say the state is saving $38 million a year in inmate housing and other costs by having the drug courts.
Bills to provide more money died during the Legislature's 2013 regular session.