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Dearborn Looks at Elimination of Drug Court Program

With state funding gone, court and city officials disagree over whether funding of the $35,000-per-year program should continue.

The future of Dearborn's Drug Court program is in peril following cuts in state grants, which left Dearborn with no funding as of Oct. 1.

According to the 19th District Court, which has overseen the program since its inception in 2002, the state received $9.4 million in requests for the Michigan Drug Court Grant Program, of which only $2.1 million was granted.

As such, the $35,000 that Dearborn usually receives annually to run the program no longer exists—leaving the city with two options: Fund the program independently, or cut it entirely.

A discussion among Mayor Jack O'Reilly and City Council members Tuesday revealed that the city is leaning toward the latter option, but would like to first review the court's budget, as well as the status of the program.

Court Budget Still Unsettled

In its 2013 budget decision, City Council opted to cut $271,000 from the district court's funding. The court was left with the task of deciding where the cuts would come from; but as of Tuesday's meeting, they had not yet presented a plan to the city to cut that funding.

Councilman Bob Abraham, an outspoken opponent of the current operations of the court, suggested that the city should review the drug court program as part of an overall update on the court's budget.

"Now they have a $300,000 problem to deal with," he said, referrencing the $35,000 Drug Court funding addition to the $271,000 cut implemented by council in June. "Maybe it's time to review their overall fiscal position."

Mayor O'Reilly and the rest of the council agreed, although no date or time was set for a review.

Council President Tom Tafelski added that he would like to see where the court stands year to year in terms of revenue.

Finance Director Jim O'Connor shared that through the first quarter of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, the court was at $902,000 for 2013—down from $958,000 last year.

Ending Drug Court: How and When?

Currently, there are 23 participants in Dearborn's Drug Court program, all in various stages of the program. If the program is ended, participants would either have to be moved to other drug courts, or retried and sentenced in Dearborn.

Court leadership, including Chief Judge Richard Wygonik and Judge Willian Hultgren, requested via a memo that the city fund the program through the end of 2012.

"This will allow the court to continue monitoring the current 23 participants along with giving us the opportunity to look for any additional grants that may be available," administrators wrote in the memo.

Judge Mark Somers, who oversees Dearborn's drug court, went a step further with his request, penning a memo alleging that "drug courts work," and that the city should continue to budget for the program this year and for years to come, regardless of state support.

"While understanding the need to be fiscally aware and prudent, does everything we do have to immediately pay for itself ... or are we in the business of delivering justice?" Somers wrote.

City officials are skeptical of Somers' position, however, given that only eight of the program's 59 participants graduated in 2011.

The court alleges that the numbers do not include defendants discharged prior to their scheduled end date, or those who were arrested on other charges and thus removed from the program.

Councilman Dave Bazzy suggested that more information was needed to determine whether current participants could easily be transferred, but added that there's no sense in continuing to fund a program that, by state standards, is dying regardless.

"If we extend it," he asked, "what does that really do?"

Michael D. Albano October 03, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Before I moved back to Dearborn, California implemented a statewide program under voter approved Proposition 36, which allowed drug users not committing other crimes to be granted up to 5 rehab chances, regardless of previous records. Most, including myself, thought this program would work well. However, it did not, as many users who chose rehab over jail did not show up for treatment, and a crime wave hit the town I lived in and continues to grow in California. Experts think the reason is that most CA drug addicts are either homeless or transient, so in order to survive and obtain their meth or crack, they commit crimes to support their habit. My experience in my CA business and as president of a large homeowners association was filled with dealing with addicts, and it was a nightmare. However, I still advocate treatment for them, but it should be in a locked up facility, as these addicts are not capable of taking care of themselves, and they victimize many others with crime, non-violent and violent for the most part.
Lou Costello October 03, 2012 at 05:57 PM
For once I agree with the administration -- do away with the drug program. All its presently doing is lining someones pocket. It has a very low amount who actually complete the program -- do away with it now. By the way if Somers wants it, let him fund the program.
English Rose October 03, 2012 at 11:30 PM
The Drug Court is a total joke!! Put these defendants on probation and have them report more frequently. Drug testing and alcohol/drug treatment should be ordered. Once they fail, put em in jail!! The city paid all of Somers lawsuits so he should fund the program. Lord knows he's a terrible administrator. Dump the glamour!!
Youssef October 04, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Much of this is based on opinion, however the facts as reported in a September 2012, Department of Justice evaluation (https://www.ncjrs.gov/spotlight/drug_courts/facts.html) presented the following results: Participants reported less criminal activity (40% vs. 53%) and had fewer rearrests (52% vs. 62%) than comparable offenders. Participants reported less drug use (56% vs. 76%) and were less likely to test positive (29% vs. 46%) than comparable offenders. Treatment investment costs were higher for participants, but with less recidivism, drug courts saved an average of $5,680 to $6,208 per offender overall. Although it may cost taxpayers $35,000 to fund the program, there is a cost savings from just putting these non-violent offenders in jail and having them cycle through the criminal justice system and continue to cost us (the tax payers) more and more year after year. I am in favor of holding these offenders responsible for paying their portion to fund this program, however some of these people would definitely not be able to afford the burdensome costs, and this just continues to add to the problem. Addiction is a serious problem, and helping these non-violent offenders get onto a track of a somewhat normal life is what makes this program a need in the city.
Lee Jacobsen October 04, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Overall, the drug program is not working, time to look at a different approach. http://www.forbes.com/sites/artcarden/2012/04/19/lets-be-blunt-its-time-to-end-the-drug-war/ Prohibition in alcohol did not work, ditto now for drugs. Instead, control the source and distribution, take the profit motive out of drugs, and crime will drop like a rock.

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