Drug courts to get $1.9 million boost
Programs in Washington, Benton counties to receive federal funding
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced it will release up to $1.9 million to two Arkansas drug court programs in Northwest Arkansas.
Washington and Benton counties each will receive $325,000 for each of the next three years to help expand and support an increasingly popular drug treatment method. Across the country, as well as in Arkansas, drug courts have helped provide counseling and services for people caught up in the criminal justice system because of drug abuse.
Washington and Benton counties’ $1.9 million in grants is just a slice of the federal department’s $80.8 million grant budget for drug and wellness courts across the country. According to the department, the treatment programs have become one key strategy in fighting America’s opioid epidemic.
“As [Health and Human Services] has carried out a national listening tour on the opioid epidemic — one of our top three clinical priorities — we have heard
from many Americans finding recovery through drug courts, and we are pleased to support such work,” department Secretary Tom Price said in a statement.
The grants are awarded every year to courts across the country based on a competitive application process. The last Arkansas county to receive grant funding was Craighead County, which received $316,426 in 2013, according to federal records.
Of Arkansas’ 75 counties, 58 have active drug court programs. Mississippi County was the latest to adopt a program in 2015.
The state’s largest program is in Pulaski County, which began in 1994 and now includes 502 defendants, according to state figures.
With the boost in funding, Washington County’s drug court will be able to expand into Madison County, officials said. Once a week, drug court administrators will hold drug court at the Madison County courthouse to better serve people in that area.
Washington County’s drug court program, which is the second largest in the state, currently has 430 participants, with about 100 entering the 15-month-long program each year. The expansion into Madison will increase that number, although officials aren’t yet sure by how much.
People are eligible for the program if they pick up felony drug possession charges, probation revocation charges or any nonviolent charge where probation officers determine a defendant may struggle with addiction. Felons with violent charges, or those whom the court has reasonable suspicions of drug dealing, are ineligible for the program.
Once in the program, participants undergo weekly counseling, weekly drug screenings, tri-weekly group sessions and frequent visits with probation officers. Participants also are encouraged to enter a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Benton County’s drug court program serves 215 participants — a 60 percent increase compared with last year — and is the state’s third largest. The program adds 100-120 new defendants to its rolls each year.
The grant dollars will enable the program to hire one additional counselor at a salary of $29,252, as set by the state, officials said. With the added help, drug court coordinator Michelle Barrett said she would be better able to connect her program with community partners.
“You’d be surprised at how many people still don’t know that Benton County has a drug court, yet we’re the third largest in the state,” she said.
With more opportunity to spread awareness of the program and its benefits in the community, “we project that we’ll continue to see an increase in our numbers,” Barrett said.
The Washington and Benton county programs are buttressed with support from the Arkansas Community Correction Department, which supplies staffing, and county governments, which supply buildings and occasional financial support.