County Probation Office Fears Budget Cut Impact

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Gila County Chief Probation Officer Frank Owens fears that state budget cuts will severely impact a drug court program he says is integral for healing addiction.

After $100,000 in state cuts would have forced the county drug court to lay off its two surveillance officers, officials decided to use money collected through probation fees to stall the cut. The budget switcheroo, however, won’t be possible next fiscal year as available funds dwindle.

Just a few hundred thousand dollars pad the probation-fee account now being used, and the department will likely ask the county for money, said Owens. He said he doesn’t yet know for how much.

The state also provides money for treating juveniles, which Owens said will likely remain intact.

About 20 adults and juveniles successfully complete drug court each year, meaning they stay off drugs and commit no crimes. The program started in Gila County in 1999.

Less than 25 percent of those people return to the court system and roughly one in 10 give up and leave the program, according to Owens.

“Our basic philosophy is we will not give up on the client. The client has to give up on the program,” he said.

Eligible offenders are typically non-violent drug abusers. In exchange for escaping jail time, offenders complete treatment programs, take regular drug tests, and submit to intensive supervision.

Every drug court client has one probation officer and one surveillance officer.

“If we lose the surveillance officers, we lose that piece of the program,” Owens said.

The probation department receives both state and county funding. This year, the department’s general fund budget from the county was $970,000. Owens said he doesn’t use county money to fund the drug court.

The surveillance officers were state-funded, however, legislators chopped $100,000 from the probation department’s budget this year, and Owens projects a $350,000 cut next year.

Owens saved his surveillance officers this year by using money from probation fees, and also by using money from a vacant probation officer position.

Owens said incarcerating those 20 people in jail, detention, or the Department of Corrections would cost $500,000 annually.

According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, drug court cost $490 in appropriated funds per adult offender, and $565 per youth offender in fiscal year 2008.

“Addiction to drugs, I think, is a medical issue,” he said. “People don’t as a rule wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to be an addict.’ A lot of times it’s mental health issues and they self-medicate, and they become addicted to their own self-medication.”

Through drug court, Owens added, people can break their addictions.

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