Pritchard To Make Second Run At Tobacco Funds For Drug Courts

by Roby Brock ( 3 views 

After withdrawing a January effort to tap tobacco settlement funds for drug courts, State Sen. Bill Pritchard (R-Elkins) says he will make a second run in the upcoming fiscal session, which begins Monday, Feb. 13.

In January, Pritchard suggested the Joint Budget Committee use funds at the Department of Health to make a shortfall in the funding mechanism for drug courts, which have a high success rate of reforming non-violent criminals.

The drug courts have experienced a $2 million cutback in funds in the current fiscal year, despite their success and despite legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe (D) complimenting their efforts. Beebe has proposed $110,000 in his supplemental appropriation budget, which will aid the court funding problem in the current fiscal year.

On Friday (Feb. 10), lawmakers met with circuit judges who run the drug courts to discuss the funding situation. Rob Moritz with our content partner, The Arkansas News Bureau reports:

During today’s meeting, several judges expressed frustration about the lack of funding for drug courts.

“We are not drug courts without treatment funding,” said Circuit Judge Robert Herzfeld of Benton. “If we don’t have adequate money to provide the minimum services then we might as well give it up, because it’s over.”

Circuit Judge Chris Williams of Malvern said he was tired of “spinning my wheels” trying to get funding for drug courts.

“If we don’t get treatment money then we’re spinning our wheels,” he said, adding he fears some of the judges may “get burned out” and decide drug courts are not worth their effort.

“I don’t like coming up here and telling you I really need your help to get some money to keep this program going because it seems like we have already done that,” he said.

Circuit Judge Joe Griffin of Texarkana said people ask him frequently what the judges are going to do about drug court funding.

“To put it bluntly, that is not our job,” Griffin said, adding that judges “don’t have the authority to do that. That’s not within out bailiwick.”