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Dearborn Looks at Elimination of Drug Court Program

With state funding gone, court and city officials disagree over whether funding of the $35,000-per-year program should continue.

Dearborn Looks at Elimination of Drug Court Program

The future of Dearborn's Drug Court program is in peril following cuts in state grants, which left Dearborn with no funding as of Oct. 1.

According to the 19th District Court, which has overseen the program since its inception in 2002, the state received $9.4 million in requests for the Michigan Drug Court Grant Program, of which only $2.1 million was granted.

As such, the $35,000 that Dearborn usually receives annually to run the program no longer exists—leaving the city with two options: Fund the program independently, or cut it entirely.

A discussion among Mayor Jack O'Reilly and City Council members Tuesday revealed that the city is leaning toward the latter option, but would like to first review the court's budget, as well as the status of the program.

Court Budget Still Unsettled

In its 2013 budget decision, City Council opted to cut $271,000 from the district court's funding. The court was left with the task of deciding where the cuts would come from; but as of Tuesday's meeting, they had not yet presented a plan to the city to cut that funding.

Councilman Bob Abraham, an outspoken opponent of the current operations of the court, suggested that the city should review the drug court program as part of an overall update on the court's budget.

"Now they have a $300,000 problem to deal with," he said, referrencing the $35,000 Drug Court funding addition to the $271,000 cut implemented by council in June. "Maybe it's time to review their overall fiscal position."

Mayor O'Reilly and the rest of the council agreed, although no date or time was set for a review.

Council President Tom Tafelski added that he would like to see where the court stands year to year in terms of revenue.

Finance Director Jim O'Connor shared that through the first quarter of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, the court was at $902,000 for 2013—down from $958,000 last year.

Ending Drug Court: How and When?

Currently, there are 23 participants in Dearborn's Drug Court program, all in various stages of the program. If the program is ended, participants would either have to be moved to other drug courts, or retried and sentenced in Dearborn.

Court leadership, including Chief Judge Richard Wygonik and Judge Willian Hultgren, requested via a memo that the city fund the program through the end of 2012.

"This will allow the court to continue monitoring the current 23 participants along with giving us the opportunity to look for any additional grants that may be available," administrators wrote in the memo.

Judge Mark Somers, who oversees Dearborn's drug court, went a step further with his request, penning a memo alleging that "drug courts work," and that the city should continue to budget for the program this year and for years to come, regardless of state support.

"While understanding the need to be fiscally aware and prudent, does everything we do have to immediately pay for itself ... or are we in the business of delivering justice?" Somers wrote.

City officials are skeptical of Somers' position, however, given that only eight of the program's 59 participants graduated in 2011.

The court alleges that the numbers do not include defendants discharged prior to their scheduled end date, or those who were arrested on other charges and thus removed from the program.

Councilman Dave Bazzy suggested that more information was needed to determine whether current participants could easily be transferred, but added that there's no sense in continuing to fund a program that, by state standards, is dying regardless.

"If we extend it," he asked, "what does that really do?"

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