Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/21/2004 08:05 AM Senate JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                 HCR 29am-SUPPORT THERAPEUTIC COURTS                                                                        
MR. JOHN BITTNER, staff to Representative Cheryl Heinze, sponsor of                                                             
HCR 29, gave the following summary of the resolution.                                                                           
     Alcoholism  in Alaska  is a  serious and  immediate problem.                                                               
     Conventional methods of dealing  with repeat offenders under                                                               
     the  influence   of  alcohol  are  not   effective  and  are                                                               
     prohibitively expensive.  Alcoholism is a mental  as well as                                                               
     a physical disease and it needs  to be treated as such if we                                                               
     are to have any hope  of rehabilitating people with drug and                                                               
     alcohol problems effectively and  with the minimum burden to                                                               
     the state and its citizens.                                                                                                
     The daily  cost of the  wellness court  is about $22  a day,                                                               
     which  works  out  to  around   $11,000  over  the  18-month                                                               
     treatment period. Out  of this the state  pays around $6,100                                                               
     on average. The  rest of the cost is paid  for by the person                                                               
     receiving  treatment.   The  average  cost   of  traditional                                                               
     incarceration  is over  $60,000  for 18  months, or  roughly                                                               
     $113   per   day.    Traditionally,   alcoholics   who   are                                                               
     incarcerated  tend not  to receive  effective treatment  for                                                               
     their addictions while  they are in jail.  While the percent                                                               
     of alcohol and  drug abusers who have  been incarcerated and                                                               
     subsequently  rearrested after  their  release is  somewhere                                                               
     around  67 percent  nationwide, the  percentage of  wellness                                                               
     court graduates rearrested after  their release is around 25                                                               
     This disparity in  success rate is attributed to  the use of                                                               
     maltrexon, a  drug that  inhibits alcohol  cravings, coupled                                                               
     with  community  based   treatment  programs  and  cognitive                                                               
     behavioral  therapy. People  with  substance abuse  problems                                                               
     aren't going to be helped by  locking them away with few, if                                                               
     any, treatment  options and then  releasing them  after they                                                               
     have served  their time.  The best way  we have  of treating                                                               
     people with addictions is the therapeutic courts.                                                                          
     HCR  29  asks  the  legislature  to  show  its  support  for                                                               
     therapeutic  courts and  reducing DUI  crimes. It  also asks                                                               
     the  Department of  Law and  the Public  Defender Agency  to                                                               
     actually participate  in the start-up of  therapeutic courts                                                               
     in areas  with high  incidences of  DUI offenders  and local                                                               
     support   for  therapeutic   courts.  They   are  effective,                                                               
     inexpensive, and easy to implement. Thank you.                                                                             
CHAIR  SEEKINS asked  if the  legislature recently  passed legislation                                                          
that extended funding for therapeutic courts.                                                                                   
SENATOR  FRENCH said  it passed  legislation that  extends the  sunset                                                          
date of  the therapeutic  court to  make sure  the legislature  gets a                                                          
final  report before  making a  decision  on whether  to continue  the                                                          
CHAIR SEEKINS said he has heard no opposition to therapeutic courts.                                                            
SENATOR  OGAN  asked  why specific  communities  for  new  therapeutic                                                          
courts are listed on page 2, line 5.                                                                                            
MR.  BITTNER  said  he  believes that  Fairbanks  and  Ketchikan  were                                                          
included  because of  their  sizes. Juneau  and  several other  cities                                                          
already  have therapeutic  courts or  are actively  establishing them.                                                          
The plan is to  put the courts in areas with  the highest incidence of                                                          
DUI crimes.                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  OGAN said  he  was  under the  impression  that the  existing                                                          
therapeutic courts  are a pilot  program so it might  be schizophrenic                                                          
for the  legislature to support more  of them before the  report about                                                          
whether  or not  the  program  has been  successful  is completed.  He                                                          
suggested requiring such a report before allowing new courts to be                                                              
SENATOR ELLIS joined the committee.                                                                                             
SENATOR OGAN expressed concern that HCR 29am is inconsistent with the                                                           
legislature's prior actions.                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEEKINS said the resolution would provide support but no                                                                  
MS. JANET McCABE, speaking for Partners for Progress, stated support                                                            
for HCR 29am. She explained:                                                                                                    
     There are  therapeutic courts at  the Superior  Court felony                                                               
     level, and  those are the  ones that of course  you recently                                                               
     funded.  Then  there's  Judge  Wanamacher's  court  and  the                                                               
     courts at  the misdemeanor  level and Ketchikan  has started                                                               
     and is  underway and Fairbanks  is very interested  and with                                                               
     the  court  system's  assistance,  we  are  applying  for  a                                                               
     national  highway safety  grant to  fund those  courts so  I                                                               
     hope that clarifies the finance question...                                                                                
     This  resolution supports  the development,  particularly of                                                               
     Fairbanks, Ketchikan,  and Juneau, because those  are places                                                               
     that have been strongly interested  and Juneau is underway -                                                               
     and  Ketchikan. And  then it  talks about  other communities                                                               
     where  there's  a large  population  of  DUI offenders,  and                                                               
     where there's a  lot of support for  therapeutic courts. The                                                               
     resolution  asks the  district attorneys,  public defenders,                                                               
     and  relevant  agencies  to   assist  in  therapeutic  court                                                               
     development and  it notes  that there  are grant  funds that                                                               
     have been applied for these  DUI courts through the National                                                               
     Institute for Transportation Safety.                                                                                       
     Regarding data,  for the  wellness court  we now  have three                                                               
     years of  solid data from Judge  Wanamacher's wellness court                                                               
     in Anchorage and  this is data prepared and  put together by                                                               
     an  impartial source,  the University  of  Alaska, and  it's                                                               
     based on court records so  it's not anecdotal. It shows that                                                               
     therapeutic  courts  have  been  at  least  three  times  as                                                               
     effective  as  incarceration  in preventing  repeat  alcohol                                                               
     crimes.   Jailing  alcoholic   criminals  is   an  expensive                                                               
     revolving  door. Seventy-five  percent  of repeat  alcoholic                                                               
     offenders get out of jail  and reoffend again, and that also                                                               
     is solid data.                                                                                                             
     Therapeutic courts stop  this cycle by a  process that Judge                                                               
     Wanamacher describes  as quote,  getting the alcohol  out of                                                               
     the alcoholic. People  spend 18 months in  the court program                                                               
     where they are  required to be employed,  they are monitored                                                               
     for  sobriety, they  undergo intensive  treatment, including                                                               
     medical treatments - there's a  medicine now that quells the                                                               
     intense craving that alcohol addicts  have for alcohol. They                                                               
     are also required  to visit the same  judge repeatedly. They                                                               
     are applauded for success or put  back in jail for a relapse                                                               
     for  a  few days.  But  basically,  they're required  to  be                                                               
     responsible for themselves and  they're monitored while they                                                               
     live successfully and  work in the community.  And when they                                                               
     finish the 18-month program, they  are truly changed people.                                                               
     Our data shows that this is a lasting change.                                                                              
     Therapeutic courts  save money  and prevent public  harm. We                                                               
     urge  you  to pass  this  resolution,  which encourages  the                                                               
     development of  therapeutic courts  where there is  both the                                                               
     need and a public interest.                                                                                                
CHAIR SEEKINS referred to the language on  page 2, line 2, and page 1,                                                          
line  11,   and  suggested  adding   "for  which  federal   funds  are                                                          
available".  He asked  Mr. Bittner  if the  intent is  to use  federal                                                          
funds for the start-up of those programs.                                                                                       
MR. BITTNER said it is.                                                                                                         
CHAIR SEEKINS noted that using  federal funds for those projects would                                                          
be consistent with the legislature's intent for the pilot program.                                                              
SENATOR FRENCH pointed  out that language pertaining  to federal funds                                                          
is already included in the third "whereas" clause.                                                                              
SENATOR   OGAN  moved   HCR  29am   from  committee   with  individual                                                          
recommendations and its attached fiscal note.                                                                                   
CHAIR SEEKINS  announced that without  objection, the  motion carried.                                                          
He then adjourned the meeting.                                                                                                  

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