Kentucky’s drug courts are running out of money. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that federal grants that launched them in more than half of the state’s counties since 1993 are starting to expire. Gov.-elect Ernie Fletcher has pledged to expand drug courts to every county. To maintain existing courts and allow for modest growth, he needs about $15 million more in the two-year budget proposal he offers in January, court officials said. Paying for drug courts in all 120 counties could increase that to at least $18 million.
The U.S. Justice Department has paid most of the bills through start-up grants. “The feds did not expect the states to take this expense on without the drug courts proving themselves first,” said Connie Payne, a state court official. “Unfortunately, just as we’re proving successful, the state is in the middle of a financial crisis.”
During the campaign, Fletcher’s running mate, former U.S. Attorney Steve Pence, called drug courts one of the best tools for breaking the cycle of crime and addiction. Putting the average addict through a year of drug court costs about $3,000, including urine screening at $5 a test; individual, group and family counseling; and case managers who track participants and report problems to the sentencing judges. The state spends about $17,000 to imprison an addict for a year.
Democratic and Republican legislators said money for drug courts should be a top priority, despite an estimated state revenue shortfall of more than $700 million next year. “There is no question they’re well worth the money — if we can find it,” said Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, who chairs the House budget subcommittee that oversees the courts.
Kentucky’s dilemma is typical, said Michael Bird of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The federal government is reducing its domestic spending just as the states can least afford to pay their own way, he said. “Until 1999, states were willing and able to pick up the tab for programs once federal money ran dry. Now states are more likely to cut back on the programs, or just let them die.”