As chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, I could not agree more with your Dec. 22 editorial "Courting Dollars: A State Judicial System Deserves State Funding." The commonwealth must comply with the 1987 state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature should fund the unified state courts system, rather than passing the burden on to counties and their largely property tax-funded budgets.
In the meantime, the commonwealth should provide additional funding to counties for use in establishing and maintaining problem-solving courts. I intend to introduce legislation that would establish a grant program with up to $3 million per year from the Department of Corrections administrative budget.
Problem-solving courts use a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to address the underlying issues that help lead to criminal behavior. Mental health and drug treatment courts are two examples of effective problem-solving courts.
Drug treatment courts quickly identify substance-abusing offenders and place them under strict court monitoring and community supervision that is coupled with effective, long-term treatment services. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals reports that 18 studies have found average cost savings -- through reduced prison costs in particular -- of $4,000 to $12,000 per drug treatment court participant.
Mental health courts focus on offenders who need treatment for mental illness. They link people convicted of nonviolent crimes to community-based treatment for mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction. A Rand Corp. study found that the cost of mental health treatment is offset in the first year by the savings in the cost of incarceration, and that by the second year, Allegheny County saved more than $9,500 per mental health court participant.
These programs substantially reduce crime by lowering re-arrest and conviction rates among drug treatment and mental health court graduates. Investments in problem-solving courts will help us save scarce tax dollars at the same time making communities safer.
STATE REP. DON WALKO