Judge speaks out against drug court cuts
PADUCAH — A plan to save money in the short term may very well cost taxpayers a lot more in the long run, and make us less safe.
That's what a local judge said about Kentucky's plan to reduce the drug court program budget. It means he'll be sending more non-violent offenders to jail, instead of rehab.
We mentioned the cutbacks a few weeks ago but now, the local drug court judge is speaking out against the plan.
The judge said he can't do much but there are some other people trying to find other funding sources, like federal grants to revamp the program.
He's also holding a public meeting to discuss the program and the ramifications of these cuts, because many who would have had the opportunity to go rehab may now face jail time instead.
Farrah Wheeler was all out of hope just a few months ago.
"I was alone," Wheeler said. "I was desperate and drug court gave me the least little bit of hope."
She told us she was hooked on pills and lost everything.
"I had given up when I entered drug court and drug court gives you that least bit of light at the end of the tunnel but you've seen nothing but dark."
"I have seen it work and I've seen it work well," McCracken County Drug Court Judge Tim Kaltenbach said.
The judge said drug court graduation is the best part of his job. He was devastated when he learned the program budget was cut and he'd have to send many to jail instead of rehab.
"It's one of the hardest things we do, if not the hardest thing we do," Kaltenbach said.
The judge said the state's decision doesn't make financial sense because the drug court program costs around $3,000 per patient. Incarceration on the other hand? That costs about $20,000 per inmate.
The judge said about 25 percent of drug court participants are re-arrested, while typically 58 percent of those who are sentenced to prison end up there again, costing even more taxpayer dollars.
"From a public policy point of view, a very poor investment to cut drug courts," Kaltenbach said.
Wheeler will graduate from the program soon. She feels for the people like her who may not be afforded the same opportunities to recover.
"I hold my head up high today and I face the music of the wreckage of my past," Wheeler said.
The judge said counties across the state face the same dilemma. In McCracken County, there were 63 people in the program. The state said the county could only accept 45, meaning the others would be turned away.
Because of the cuts, the frequency of drug tests is also reduced.
The judge said if you're concerned about the cuts, you should call your state legislator and tell them to appropriate the money for the program.
Kaltenbach will explain the drug court program and recent changes to it Tuesday, July 10 at 6 p.m. at the Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway in Paducah.