Harris County’s drug court in Houston is gaining acceptance and much-needed money aimed at bringing faith-based groups into the effort, the Houston Chronicle reports. The program, still small in comparison with others in Texas, appears ready to expand as local and state officials seek ways to relieve pressure on crowded prisons by offering low-level drug offenders treatment instead of jail. “In the beginning, there were a lot of questions and some uncertainty. But now, I think everybody has begun to see that we are able to deal with these people in a smarter, better way,” said District Judge Brock Thomas, who will begin volunteering with the court this spring.
Harris County’s 18-month-old program, which has about 130 participants, is preparing to expand to more than 200 by the end of the year. New federal money is expected as early as next month. Offering the option of faith-based treatment is a condition for the $22.8 million, three-year grant split among Texas’ six most-populous counties. The number of offenders in the Houston program is still a small fraction of the total of low-level drug cases. Only a few religious organizations offer full treatment services, but officials hope more will get involved as money becomes available. Though drug courts and faith-based options have gained political popularity, some academics abuse remain skeptical, said Carlton Erickson, director of the Addiction Science Research and Education Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “There is no research on faith-based treatment. It’s too new,” he said.