By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Bell County commissioners moved forward with their state-mandated drug court program Monday morning, in order to prevent jeopardizing the county's adult probation funds.
The court approved a resolution establishing the program for fiscal year 2009, and designated County Judge Jon Burrows as the authorized official for grants from the Criminal Justice Division of the governor's office.
A mandate came out of the last legislative session, requiring counties with a population of more than 200,000 to create a drug court.
Bell County received $100,000 for the program, but Burrows said this will not cover all the expenses incurred, for which they originally requested $240,000.
The county applied for $261,000 in state grants for the next fiscal year.
If the county does not implement a drug court, the state would withdraw funding from adult probation programs.
Burrows said the risk of not having state funds for those services is enough incentive to implement the drug court, even though he and other officials said a drug court was not needed in Bell County.
"Our judges were already doing the same thing a drug court would do," Burrows said in an interview last month. "This is another unfunded mandate on us for a program we didn't ask for, and our judges said we don't need."
Burrows said he contacted the governor's office on criminal justice, which told him the funding mechanism in the statute failed to generate enough funds for all Texas counties.
Todd Jermstad, interim director for Bell County's judicial district Community Supervision and Corrections Department, created Bell County's drug court plan with Judge Rick Morris of the 169th District Court.
"There are still grants that can be disbursed, that free up funding for this year through August," Jermstad said. "The biggest need is for outpatient treatment, but the state did not provide enough money for that."
Drug court will begin as soon as the county receives grants for it.
Nonviolent drug offenders, or those who committed crimes under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances, will be screened initially, then evaluated to determine the severity of their condition.
Those with severe addictions will be admitted to treatment facilities. Less severe cases will be geared toward drug education.
The program's goal is to keep drug offenders out of the criminal justice system, and administer adequate treatment for addictions, Jermstad said. It is geared toward people who have failed other substance abuse programs.
"The commissioners court is trying to hang tough on this," Jermstad said. "Hopefully we get the grant next year or we're in trouble."
Contact Hayley Kappes at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559.