SHERIDAN — A $4.8 million funding cut for Wyoming drug courts could spell bad news for a program proponents say helps offenders while saving the state money.
Gov. Matt Mead released his draft budget plan Monday and recommended a $12 million reduction in tobacco settlement funds — money for programs that focus on substance abuse, health issues and tobacco cessation.
Mead directed the Department of Corrections ($2.9 million), Department of Family Services ($1.6 million), Department of Health ($7.4 million) and Office of the Attorney General ($42,000) to reduce tobacco settlement spending.
To help make up for the shortfall, the Wyoming Department of Health cut all tobacco funds allocated for court-supervised treatment, or more than 50 percent of the $8.6 million drug court budget.
The decision, even in the preliminary stages, was a tough one, according to WDH Director Tom Forslund.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to cut this program. I don’t want to cut the other programs that we have tobacco funds going to,” he said. “But you get your marching orders, and you have to make it work. I wish the revenue for the state wasn’t decreasing.”
A decrease that substantial could severely affect a program that has been very successful in Sheridan County, according to Neal Madson, administrator of the Sheridan County Justice Office, which manages drug court.
Drug court is a court-supervised program that uses a combination of treatment, supervision and accountability to rehabilitate offenders with the hope of reducing sentences or fines, or in some cases deferring prosecution completely. In other words, drug court is an alternative to jail for people with substance abuse issues.
Sheridan County Probation and Parole assigns an agent to work with felons in the program. District Manager Tony Garber called drug court a success and said losing it would be tough.
“In Wyoming, resources are kind of limited on what we have to work with with offenders,” he said. “Drug court is one of those valuable options that are available to use. It would hurt if that went away.
“I think there’s research out there across the country that shows drug courts are pretty valuable. They serve a purpose and help a lot of people,” he added. “That’s certainly been the case here.”
Not only does drug court make sense from a human standpoint, it also makes cents from a budgetary perspective. Madson calculated totals for drug court spending versus incarceration and found a net gain for the state of Wyoming.
The state reimbursed the Sheridan County Juvenile Drug Court $189,000 in fiscal year 2014-15. During that period, 23 juveniles were served in the program — 17 misdemeanants and six delinquent.
Upon completion of the program, circuit court suspended 880 days of detention. Spending $195 a day at the Regional Detention Center in Casper, this would cost $172,000. The six juveniles that were ordered by 4th Judicial District Court would be an additional cost that would vary by length of stay at the Wyoming Boys or Girls School.
Adult spending was even more cut and dried. The Sheridan County Adult Drug Court received roughly $219,000 last year. During that period, 56 adults were served in the program — 35 misdemeanants and 21 felons.
Successful drug court completion resulted in 3,857 days of suspended jail sentences. At $91.23 a day at the Sheridan County Detention Center, this would cost $352,000. The 21 felons ordered by district court would be an additional cost that would vary by length of stay at the Wyoming State Penitentiary.
“Over and over again, you kind of see that the dollars are saved (through drug court),” Madson said, adding the men and women in drug court have jobs, adding additional value to the community.
Moreover, the programs have found success by measures like recidivism and sobriety. A 2015 site visit revealed 100 percent of adults maintained sobriety 120 days prior to graduation. Less than 4 percent of adult drug court participants went to jail either during or after the program.
As prison populations grow nationwide, Madson hopes the Legislature restores full funding. He realizes a declining state budget means departments must cut back, but programs like drug court rehabilitate offenders and save the state money long-term in incarceration costs. Madson plans to present at a forum with local legislators on Jan. 27 to talk about the benefits of drug court.
Forslund will meet with the Joint Appropriations Committee Monday, but, as a director, will not advocate for or against the program.