Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New drug court money isn't helping keep enough people out of prison, state report says

Hoping to steer drug offenders to treatment instead of prison, state legislators set aside $19 million last year to create special drug courts in eight counties.

Hillsborough County got some of the money, as did Pinellas.

With fewer prisoners, legislators hoped to save $95 million.

That's not going to happen, says a state report this month — unless something changes.

The courts themselves are up to standard, the review says. Instead of prison, offenders are sentenced to drug court for 12 to 18 months as a condition of probation. They're getting treatment, and judges are holding them accountable.

The problem: Not enough offenders are admitted because the requirements are too strict.

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, the Legislature's research arm, gave an example: Programs can't serve probation violators if they're in trouble for anything but a failed drug test.

That doesn't make sense to judges who understand how drug addicts violate probation. They miss meetings, fail to pay fees, don't show up for treatment, get caught with more drugs.

"In my experience as a judge for almost 14 years, I have never seen a violation of probation where a dirty urine was the only violation listed," said Hillsborough Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr.

Reviewers also questioned whether many of the people qualifying for drug court would have otherwise gone to prison.

Judges in Hillsborough and Pinellas say they review each case and admit only those in danger of incarceration.

But they're limited by points the court assigns to the offender's charges, a score to determine a sentence. The cap is 52. Many think it should increase to 60.

Michelle Ardabily, Pinellas' chief deputy court administrator, said drug court has turned away people whose score was too high but still got sentenced to treatment.

"We could've provided greater oversight," she said. "That's frustrating, because they'd have much more success."

The two-year goal for the program was to divert 4,000 offenders from prison. Hillsborough and Pinellas met just a third of their target in their first six months. The six other counties — Orange, Polk, Volusia, Escambia, Marion and Broward — averaged about the same.

In Hillsborough, which has used drug courts since the early 1990s, the expansion money is being put to good use, said program manager Lashawn Smith.

A client in his 50s was addicted to crack and in and out of prison. In drug court, Smith said, he has completed a treatment and has graduated to transitional living.

Ardabily has seen success, too.

"The court model itself works," she said. "It's just been frustrating to hit this narrow window."

New drug court money isn't helping keep enough people out of prison, state report says 10/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 8, 2010 11:51am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa moves to pause permits for 5G wireless equipment to assess impact of new Florida law


    To business groups, the bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed Friday will clear the way for superfast 5G wireless communications and give Florida an edge in attracting high-tech companies.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other local officials have worried that a new state law aimed at facilitating the installation of 5G wireless technology could clutter scenic corridors like Tampa's Riverwalk.
  2. Trump takes another swipe at CNN after resignations over retracted Russia story


    NEW YORK — President Donald Trump used the resignations of three CNN journalists involved in a retracted Russia-related story to resume his attack on the network's credibility Tuesday.

    Anthony Scaramucci, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, talks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. [Associated Press]
  3. Clearwater woman dies after losing control of SUV, flipping in Palm Harbor


    A Clearwater woman died early Tuesday morning when she lost control of her SUV and crashed in Palm Harbor, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  4. Countryside alum A.J. Andrews lands in ESPN's annual body issue


    A.J. Andrews has taken over the spotlight in softball. Last year, the former Countryside High and LSU standout became the first female to win a Rawlings Gold Glove in the award's 59-year existence.

    Former LSU/Countryside softball player AJ Andrews, now w/ Akron, is the first female to win a Rawlings Gold Glove in the award's 59-year history. (Courtesy of Rawlings)
  5. Bill Nelson Video: Talk to this Florida mom before you call Obamacare a failure


    Sen. Bill Nelson spoke on the senate floor about the health care reform debate, sharing the story of a single Florida mother trying to keep alive her daughter, kindergarten teacher Megan Geller, who died at age 28 in 2015 after a two-year battle with leukemia.