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Florida Cutbacks Reduce Offender Drug Treatment

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Posted On: January 16, 2002          Updated On: January 16, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

Florida Cutbacks Reduce Offender Drug Treatment
By Terence T. Gorski
January 16, 2002

The economic aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are adversely affecting the nation's ability to provide treatment for alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental health problems.  This brief article explains why and then highlights an article from the St. Petersburg Times describing how this trend is affecting drug treatment in Florida's criminal justice system.

There are three reasons why the addiction and mental health funding is being adversely affected in the aftermath of September 11th.  

First, there is a ripple of economic problems moving through the economy as a direct result of the terrorist attacks.  These direct affects are most strongly impacting the airlines, restaurant, and travel industry and states who heavily rely on tourism.  

Second, the funding priorities of the nation have changed.  The two top priorities are the international war against terrorism and homeland defense.  Our top policy makers have not yet seen that that addiction and mental health treatment are important to homeland defense because they promote resiliency in the face of terrorist acts and provide direct treatment for the increased mental health and addiction problems that are growing in the aftermath of  September 11th.    

Third, the already declining national economy has been pushed into recession as result of the direct costs of the September 11th. attacks and the subsequent investment in the international war on terrorism and homeland defense.  In times of recession, funding for addiction and mental health services are often at the top of the list for reduction.  This is especially true for services provided to stigmatized or economically disadvantaged people.  

Programs that provide treatment for addicted offenders can become an easy target for budget cuts.  This is tragic, because as these programs are cut, criminal recidivism will increase driving the number of people incarcerated even higher.   In Florida, for example, treatment providers must cut 32 percent of their beds by Feb. 1, a statewide loss of about 612 beds. This means that more defendants relapse to alcohol, drugs, an crime.  They'll be rearrested and put back in prison.  This  will end up costing the state more money than residential treatment.  

The following articles show how drug treatment in Florida is being affected.

Cutbacks Alter How Florida Treats Drug Offenders

New Money Needed For Florida Judges To Work With Drug Offenders

There Will Be Less Space In Treatment Programs
Participants May Have To Pay More

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS -- State drug treatment programs aimed at keeping addicts out of prison must reduce their beds by nearly a third because of the Florida budget crisis. 

In addition, criminal defendants already in such programs may have to pay nearly twice as much of their own money to stay. 

Word of those dramatic cuts and others came Monday at a meeting between the Florida Department of Corrections, which funds most treatment programs, and nonprofit treatment providers.  

"We were all hoping this day wouldn't come," said Richard Nimer, the DOC's director of drug service programs. "We have no choice. We've got to get it done . . . we have no money." 

The cuts, which hit more than 30 programs across Florida, will be particularly devastating for drug courts, including those in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Citrus counties. 

Drug court judges frequently send defendants to treatment in residential programs as an alternative to jail or prison.  

The DOC also cut funding to numerous outpatient programs, telling providers that as of Feb. 1 defendants will have to pay the full cost of these programs. 

Typically, the outpatient fee is $20 to $25 per week for group therapy sessions. The DOC had been picking up this cost or a portion of it for indigent defendants. The DOC will continue to fund outpatient costs for those already in programs. 

"We're just going to have to tighten our belts," said Gail Holly, supervisor for adult drug courts in Hillsborough. "We're going to make it, but our treatment providers are definitely going to have to juggle resources." 

Nimer said the DOC must cut about $5.6-million in its current $24.5-million budget for drug treatment and outpatient care. The cuts are more severe because they come halfway through the fiscal year, magnifying the effects. 

But Nimer said he hopes the cuts were temporary. He said Gov. Jeb Bush
is supportive of the drug programs. 

Nimer expects funding levels to be restored in the next fiscal budget year, beginning July 1. 

"You are all barely making it as it is," Nimer told service providers. "I'm not thrilled by these cuts . . . let's be frank. If we don't get money restored (July 1), we're going to have to make some changes next year." 

In all, treatment providers must cut 32 percent of their beds by Feb. 1, a statewide loss of about 612 beds. 

In the Tampa Bay area, one of the hardest-hit providers will be Operation PAR, which loses funding for 62 beds, mostly for drug abusers, in Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee counties. 

"This hurts," said Nancy Hamilton, PAR's chief operating officer. "I think that there is no question there will be some people who will not be able to get treatment. Anyone who says differently is not facing reality." 

The DOC also cut by 10 percent the per-day cost it pays for each defendant in a residential program. Nimer recommended that providers pass the cost on to defendants in programs. Currently, defendants with jobs pay $8 per day for services. Nimer said providers should raise that to $15. 

Some providers said defendants couldn't afford the extra cost. 

"A lot of our clients are only making minimum wage," said Nick Trunzo, director of residential services at Spectrum, a program in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. 

Nimer blamed the problem on economic decline and suggested that some programs might want to consider releasing some drug addicts early if they are making good progress. 

"We've looked at umpteen options on how to do this." he said "There's just no wiggle room." 

The hit to Pinellas is softened somewhat because a 75-bed facility operated by Bridges of America won't be affected by these cuts, Nimer said. The Bridges facility in St. Petersburg is supported by federal monies and other revenue sources not affected by the budget shortfall,he said. 

Other Bridges programs around Florida were not as lucky.   "These cuts are deeper than we thought they were going to be," said John McMahon, residential programs coordinator with Salvation Army Correctional Services, which has 157 beds in Jacksonville, Fort Myers and Daytona. 

"We're going to have to lay people off and cut back services," he said. "This is going to have a dramatic effect across Florida. 

Many fear that more defendants will end up in prison if they don't get treatment, something that ends up costing the state more money than residential treatment. 

"We're just going to have to suck it up and get through these difficult times," Nimer said. 

Pubdate: Tue, 15 Jan 2002
Source: St Petersburg Times(FL)
Author: William R. Levesque


Florida's growing population is well-known for putting a strain on the 
state's environment, water supplies and roads. But growth, in putting a 
strain on courts for drug offenders and juvenile delinquents, has created a 
serious need for at least 49 more judges.

Last year, the Legislature approved 27 new judgeships, but the chairmen of 
both criminal justice panels said there was considerable pressure to 
rescind those judgeships during two recently completed emergency 
budget-cutting sessions.

Florida's court dilemma is strikingly similar to the problem several 
federal courts along the southwest border face as they are overwhelmed by a 
flood of drug and immigration cases and a severe shortage of judges to 
handle them.

While the problem in filling federal courts along the U.S. border 
essentially boils down to politics, the problem in Florida comes down to 
money - or the lack of. And lawmakers are quick to point out that there is 
no money for new judges, and Gov. Bush last year did not budget any money 
for new judges because the state has other priorities.

Rep. Randy Ball, R-Mims, who chairs the House criminal justice budget 
committee, said "the chances are very slim they'll get any new judges" 
during a lean fiscal year.

No cost for the judge request was available, but the state court 
administrator last year estimated the cost of 44 new judgeships at $9.7 
million a year, including support staff.

Across the state, the high court says there is a need for 34 new circuit 
judges, 13 new county judges and two appeals court judges.

The Supreme Court last year asked for 44 new judges, and the 27 new 
judgeships created were "insufficient" to meet the need, the justices wrote 
in an unsigned opinion.

Wouldn't it be a interesting experiment if the Legislature fully funded the 
judiciary to see how it would work fully staffed?

The fact is that law enforcement, prisons and the courts are fundamental 
functions of a democratic society. One place where Florida has done well is 
providing enough prison space. But there also is a need for an adequate 
number of courtrooms, prosecutors, public defenders and support staff, 
which are all part of a democracy that helps ensure fair and speedy trials 
as well as getting violent criminals off the streets.

Having an efficient and effective court system is a critical part of 
maintaining a safe and free society, not just for criminal cases but also 
for civil cases.

Florida clearly needs more judges and we urge the Legislature to find the 
money needed to pay for them.

Source: Pensacola News Journal (FL)
Copyright: 2002 The Pensacola News Journal


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