The Fresno County district attorney and public defender made a rare side-by-side appearance Tuesday before the Board of Supervisors, presenting a united front to request more money for Fresno County’s drug court program.
A pilot program employed since September has prompted 80 percent of drug offenders to seek treatment. Before the pilot program, drug abusers had no incentive to get treatment, said Steve Wright, assistant district attorney.
Supervisors voted 5-0 to pass the funding plan for a new drug court that emphasizes treatment instead of confinement.
The program will save the county money over the long run: Confinement is expensive, and successful treatment will prevent crime, resulting in savings in law enforcement and court costs, Wright said.
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The plan costs about $356,214 for the remainder of the fiscal year ending June 30 and was an unorthodox move by the board, which rarely adds new jobs in the middle of a budget year.
The funding will pay for one district attorney and one public defender as well as staff members. All will be assigned to the drug court. It’s being paid for with excess money from the county’s Proposition 172 allocation, which pays for law enforcement programs. Other funding is from the county’s Department of Behavioral Health and county revenues.
The drug court’s goal is to help drug offenders kick their habits. In 2014, state voters passed Proposition 47, which reduced felony drug offenses to misdemeanors and in many cases pushed drug offenders out of jails.
After Proposition 47, those arrested had no incentive to show up for court and more than 70 percent didn’t, said Liz Diaz, the county’s public defender.
Wright said offenders continued using drugs “with no real consequences,” and there was a spike in crime in Fresno in 2015.
“Jail time was nonexistent and there was no treatment and, unfortunately, there was nothing to stop the cycle of substance abuse and crime,” he said.
Addicts continued to use with no real consequences. Jail time was nonexistent and there was no treatment and, unfortunately, there was nothing to stop the cycle of substance abuse and crime.
Steve Wright, Fresno County assistant district attorney
Robbery was up 29 percent, violent crime jumped 17 percent and vehicle break-ins spiked 33 percent in the city, he said.
“We attribute a lot of that to addicts no longer in jail who are not receiving treatment and are out trying to find ways to pay for their drugs,” said Wright.
After starting the new drug court in September, 80 percent of drug offenders are opting for treatment.
Once offenders are cited and appear in drug court the first time, they meet with a substance abuse specialist who assesses their treatment needs and makes a referral for treatment within days, Diaz said.
The pilot program has caught the attention of the Board of State and Community Corrections, said Sacramento-based spokeswoman Tracie Cone.
Officials will be coming to Fresno later this month to observe the drug court because it shows promise for treatment options and lowering crime, she said.
Supervisor Henry R. Perea said the drug court program shows that there are programs that can work in the era of Proposition 47.
“When you have addicts with no real consequences, with no jail time, no treatment, it should be no surprise the numbers that you gave just from Fresno police alone,” he said. “That’s the result for not holding people accountable for what they do.”
Either take the treatment, or you’re going to have a penalty.
Brian Pacheco, Fresno County supervisor
Supervisor Brian Pacheco said the program is an opportunity to try something different that appears to be working since drug offenders don’t just get to walk away.
“Either take the treatment, or you’re going to have a penalty” of jail time, he said.
Pacheco said that he and Board Chairman Buddy Mendes campaigned on the platform of doing things differently to find solutions for the county. He said the new drug court program is a prime example of that type of program.
In other action Tuesday, Mendes was named chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors during the board’s annual reorganization.
Mendes, 59, of Riverdale, replaces Supervisor Debbie Poochigian. Mendes’ district covers nine of Fresno’s cities.
Pacheco, supervisor for District 1, was named vice chairman. Pacheco, 47, of Kerman, represents Fresno County’s westside areas, including portions of northwest and west-central Fresno.
Both Mendes and Pacheco were elected in 2014. Mendes replaced Judy Case McNairy and Pacheco took over the seat of Phil Larson.