CARTHAGE, Mo. —
Jasper County is being asked to make an investment in a program to keep more offenders out of the county jail.
Supporters — in the courts and mental health arena — contend that the spending also would pay off by keeping offenders at home and at work, and reducing their future encounters with law enforcement and the courts.
“Sometimes it can be a revolving door,” said Jasper County Circuit Judge Gayle Crane. “We’ll see some (offenders) over and over. We send them to prison, and they come out and come back to us with the same issues, and then we’ll start seeing their kids in juvenile court.”
The County Commission is considering a request from county judges, relayed by Crane on Tuesday, to allocate nearly $190,000 to fund three specialty courts in the county court system.
Currently, a drug court and a mental health court are in operation in the Jasper County court system. The judges want to add a DWI court to make sure those who repeatedly drink and drive are made to obtain treatment. Under a change in state law, those convicted of Class C and Class D felonies of driving while intoxicated must spend 30 or 60 days in the county jail. If a county has a DWI court, the offender can be diverted for a sentence that will include treatment for the alcohol problem.
“It would cost the county to lock these people up, because the state isn’t paying any of the costs,” Crane said. “It wouldn’t solve anything, and they we’d start all over.”
The judges are proposing a budget for costs including a coordinator and two case managers who would work in all three specialty courts, including a new DWI court.
Based on felony numbers for 2011, the county would realize nearly $73,000 in savings — money that would be spent otherwise to keep those offenders in jail. There also would be income of about $67,000 that would be paid by those in the DWI and drug courts.
The county also has a grant of just over $41,000 for the drug court for next year, but Crane told the commissioners that grants cannot be relied on as a source of permanent funding.
“Once we have a full-time court coordinator, they could spend some of their time applying for grants, and court costs will be coming in,” she said. “We hope it will level out and even pay for itself.”
Crane stressed that the programs do not forgive offenders for the crimes that brought them to court. But they do require drug, alcohol or mental health treatment as part of the sentence in an effort to address problems that can keep offenders in the court system.
The office of Dean Dankelson, county prosecutor, is involved in the drug and mental health courts, and it supports the proposal for a DWI court, the prosecutor said.
“Treatment courts, including DWI court, have a track record of being very successful,” he said. “If we can have the defendants suffer the consequences of their action, but keep them from re-offending in the future, that’s the goal.”
The specialty courts are a recognition that alcohol, drugs and mental health problems can lead to criminal behavior, and that those in law enforcement “can’t be the case managers and mental health providers,” said Del Camp, vice president of Ozark Center, the behavioral health division of Freeman Health System.
Ozark Center is involved in both the current courts, and both have had positive a impact in the county, he said.
“We know that a significant number of those in federal prison, and even higher numbers in local institutions, are there because of substance abuse or mental health problems,” Camp said. “So the basic idea is to intervene in an informed way and address the problem so they won’t re-offend. They’re not able to evade the consequences of what they’ve been arrested for. They have to plead guilty, and it demands accountability immediately and over the long term.”
Offenders who go through the court can stay home, and stay employed, he said.
“The first report I saw out of mental health court, 25 percent of those in the court were employed, and within six months of participation, that percentage had grown to two-thirds,” he said.
Camp said the county judges’ proposal for a coordinator and case managers to oversee all three courts “will provide the single point of contact that we haven’t had.”
“It will provide a level of oversight that can bring all the elements together,” he said. “In so many cases, the resources are out there. This makes sure they get them.”
Crane, who supervises the drug court, said she has seen improvement in the offenders involved.
“Early on, they were in and out of the hospital, and now that rarely happens,” she said. “If you can keep them on their medications, in jobs and housing, you’d be hard-pressed to know they have been through the system or had these issues.”
SIXTEEN PARTICIPANTS now are in Jasper County mental health court, and 11 are in the drug court program. Jail overcrowding has been an issue in the past year, and costs of county incarceration are estimated at $20 per day.