Newsbrief: North Carolina Drug Courts Face Ax Because of Budget Woes 5/24/02

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Like more than 40 other states, North Carolina is grappling with sudden budget deficits, and the state's drug courts could be among the victims. The state's Administrative Office of the Courts, which funds the drug courts in nine judicial districts, must slash $11 million from its $305 million budget has proposed eliminating all funding for the drug courts. This year, they cost the Administrative Office $1.1 million.

"The current budget crisis is forcing the AOC to choose between cutting programs or closing courts in the state," AOC spokeswoman Patty McQuillan told the Charlotte Observer. "We've got to maintain court services for the public even though the few programs the court system has, such as the drug treatment program, have assisted in turning lives around. But we can't close courts."

Drug court advocates claimed they reduced recidivism rates, and their defenders cited a recent study by the AOC that found 21% of drug court graduates were re-arrested, while 47% of similar offenders who did not undergo court-ordered drug treatment were re-arrested.

Drug court judges have appealed to Gov. Mike Easley for the money to be restored, but he has yet to respond. Senate Appropriations Committee co-chair Fountain Odom (D-Mecklenburg) expressed sympathy, but warned that tough cuts are coming. "There are a lot of good programs that will be reduced," he told the Observer.

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