EPHRATA — Much of the lower-level crime in Grant County — like minor assaults and robberies — is “driven by substance use and abuse,” according to Grant County Superior Court Judge David Estudillo.
Which is why, he says, the county needs its own drug court.
“We have a high substance abuse problem in our county,” Estudillo said.
“It’s a special court in the Superior Court that focuses on treatment and supervision,” Estudillo told county commissioners Tuesday morning. “We’d go after those who are at a high risk of re-offending.”
Estudillo asked the commissioners to consider either allocating a portion of a proposed three-tenths-of-one-percent sales tax hike for a drug court or approve a special one-tenth-of-one-percent sales tax allowed under state law for drug abuse treatment.
The proposed tax, which would raise around $6 million, would likely be used to help alleviate overcrowding at the Grant County Jail.
Estudillo said 27 of the state’s 39 counties have drug courts, and studies done over the last 10 years show that drug courts save counties and the state money by reducing the number of people who go to jail or commit crimes, reducing the number of kids in foster care, and generally helping some people get on their feet.
The judge cited studies that showed drug courts have saved counties anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 per person under treatment and supervision.
“Many with drug problems have children who are dependent, they are unemployed,” Estudillo said. “With treatment and supervision, a good percentage will stabilize, get employment, and be more productive.”
Treatment would take 18-24 months, Estudillo said, and any charges pleaded to would be dismissed upon successful completion of treatment and supervision.
However, the judge told commissioners the key is tight supervision and accountability, which would require a dedicated staff — including a court coordinator with social work experience — and probably one law enforcement or court officer who could regularly check on defendants under the drug court’s supervision.
“You’re giving structure to individuals who have lost the ability to function,” Estudillo told commissioners. “But people with substance abuse, they will fail. It takes time to get treatment to work, and some will relapse.”
Estudillo said if he got a drug court, he would hope to have at least 30 people in the program initially, with an eventual goal of having 70-75 under supervision.
Commissioners said they wanted a better idea of what the program would cost before they could consider, much less approve, Estudillo’s proposal.
“I would like to know the baseline cost per participant. Would one-tenth-of-a-percent even cover it?” said Commission Chair Tom Taylor.“I like the concept, keeping people out of jail and helping society.”
Commissioner Richard Stevens said the one-tenth-of-a-percent sales tax, which could be imposed by the county commission without voter approval, would raise about $2 million.
“We’d be really hesitant about raising that tax right now,” he said.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.