HARRISVILLE - Alcona County's drug court could pay for itself in coming years, so that it can continue to divert people convicted of alcohol and drug crimes into self-help programs instead of jail.
In an update to the Alcona County Commissioners, Family Court Judge Laura Frawley said that the Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Agency allowed a one-year extension of an $81,000 grant, which will go toward the program. The Bureau of Justice Assistance also granted an extension for the use of $59,200, and the state court administrator's office is providing $22,230.
"But you can't live on grant funding forever," Frawley said in a interview.
So a group of supporters is creating a non-profit 501c3 drug court foundation, which will do fundraising for the program. Frawley, Alcona County Prosecutor Thomas Weichel, defense attorney Dave Cook, and other staff members donate their time when the drug court is in session twice a month on Wednesday afternoons, further reducing costs, she said.
"We're hoping once the foundation gets up and on its feet the court can be self sustaining," Frawley said.
The court program was launched around 2004, and studies have shown the system to be very cost effective, Frawley said. Since 2007, her drug court has saved a total of 42.5 years worth of jail bed days at a cost of $32 a day, or almost $5 million.
She said the program is a form of restorative justice.
During the court sessions, Frawley lays down the law, sending repeat offenders to prison if they are unable to straighten out. She also offers advice, group encouragement and resources for defendants trying to stay sober, finish their educations or land jobs.
"The human numbers are amazing. Parents get their children back, complete high school and college degrees, and you can't put a cost on that," she said.
At the present time, 31 people are in the program. Four are from Alcona County, four from Oscoda County and 23 from Iosco, she said.
"Before the intervention program, we were literally seeing the same people every six months or so," Frawley said. "We know some graduates may be drinking again, but they are not reoffending."
In addition to Alcona County, the drug court covers Oscoda and Iosco counties, and officials are hoping to expand into Arenac County, she said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.