Drug court at risk of losing funding during state budget talks

Drug court at risk of losing funding during state budget talks

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The current budget crisis in Louisiana has put many state programs in danger of losing funding and that includes drug court.

It's another option for non-violent offenders with addiction problems that offers more treatment and counseling.

These days, art and family are Gary Smith's passions. But for most of his life, his passion was something else.

"Alcohol, hallucinogenics, pills, ups and downs, and a little minor dusting of heroine, and I can't imagine what else," says Gary Smith.

Smith's drug problems started after his military service ended in 1971. He said he thought his life was basically over after being arrested for cocaine possession in 1999. But instead of a 5-year prison sentence, Smith was given the option of drug court, a treatment program for non-violent offenders. He's been sober since finishing in 2001.

"It turned out to be incredible," says Smith. "Not only did I, I finished it successfully in like the bare minimum time."

But that same system that helped Smith could face large cuts this year.

In a letter to members of the Louisiana Association of Drug Court Professionals, President Thad Toups and Executive Director Lars Levy wrote that they are in a crisis because of the budget shortfall in Louisiana.

District Court Judge Anthony Marabella, who oversees Drug Court in Baton Rouge, says his program lost over $80,000 in state funding last year and he doesn't want to lose any more.

"A very, very intense program that we have," says Marabella. "They go to classes four days a week, they have to get a job, they have to do community service. It's a program that we're very proud of. We have graduated in thirteen years over 300 people."

According to the district attorney's office, if drug court loses funding, tax payers lose money. The DA's office says that drug court reduces the number of inmates that have to be housed and fed.

"Someone comes in an they're identified as in need of treatment, if that's not an option for us, then we don't have a lot of other options out there within our criminal laws," says Darwin Miller, Assistant District Attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish.

Marabella says he, along with Drug Court employees and alumni, are talking to legislators in an effort to keep as much state funding as they can.

The amount of funding for drug court will be decided by the end of June when the state figures out their final budget, which will go into effect on July 1.

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