Friday, August 26, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Funding of the 41 drug courts in Arkansas will be near the top of the agenda when the legislature convenes in fiscal session next February.

Judges and staff who operate drug courts are seeking a permanent place in the state's budget, as opposed to the current system under which legislators must find funding from available sources every budget cycle. Legislative supporters of drug courts have been able to find money from a settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies.

The state Department of Community Correction is allocated funds for drug courts but without strict instructions as to how much it must spend on the courts. The result has been that the department has had to divert it to other needs, such as supervising inmates on parole. Drug court personnel say that of the $1.5 million the legislature approved for drug courts, only $500,000 will actually be funded.

Supporters of drug courts in the legislature and in the judicial system want the governor to release funds from a discretionary account, because funding for drug treatment will run out perhaps as soon as October. To eliminate the uncertainty and instability that creates annual scrambles for available money, supporters of drug courts also want a permanent funding source in the state budget.

Defendants facing certain drug charges can go through drug court, where they undergo intensive treatment and supervision. They must undergo drug testing and the penalty for failure is severe, but if they successfully complete the program the charges against them are dropped. Placing defendants in drug court costs much less than housing them in a prison.

On average the treatment program lasts 18 months, which is usually less than a prison sentence. Drug court participants perform public service projects, but they don't have to quit their jobs. That means they continue to pay taxes and support their families, which helps hold down costs to the welfare system.

There are more than 16,000 inmates in the state prison system. As of July more than 2,000 people had gone through Arkansas drug courts.

When someone is arrested on drug charges a thorough evaluation is necessary before admitting him or her into a drug court program. Some defendants have lied about being addicted to drugs in order to avoid prison.

The nation's first drug court started in Miami, Florida, in 1988 as a response to a huge backlog in the criminal courts due to drug offenses. The first drug court in Arkansas was a pilot project in Pulaski County that began in 1994 with funding from the state Health Department and the federal Department of Justice.

AA Bond Rating

The Arkansas Development Finance Authority, the main state agency that issues bonds for public housing projects, has a AA rating from Standard and Poor's. That rating was raised earlier this year from AA-.

When the Authority received its first rating from Standard and Poor's in the late 1990s, it received an A and since then has been upgraded three times.

ADFA also issues bonds for economic development projects but Standard and Poor's based its rating mainly on the Authority's bonds for housing.

No comments: