A judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals is lamenting the demise of three of the state’s specialty courts which have kept the drug-addicted and the mentally ill from repeatedly returning to prison.
Judge Tom Bower was an assistant prosecutor in Black Hawk County when he helped start a drug court for non-violent offenders in 2005.
“The idea is to do what the system has been unable to do which is to hold people accountable, to make sure that they deal with the underlying reasons for their addition, to get them back in the community, to get them back employed, to make sure that they make restitution,” Bower says, “and that they lead a drug-free life.”
The state has about a dozen “specialty” courts, including a new court just for domestic violence cases, but due to a reduction in federal grant money two of the state’s drug and mental health courts closed June 30. Another specialty court for drug addicts and the mentally ill in Dubuque and Delaware Counties would have closed, but it is now being financed privately, by the Dubuque Catholic Archdiocese.
Bower says it’s “short-sighted” to reduce government funding for these specialty courts.
“There are a lot of people that have benefitted, who have reclaimed their lives, have reclaimed their families, have had drug-free pregnancies and drug-free babies,” Bower says. “And not only that, it saves money.”
Bower cites a study that found almost $400,000 in savings to the justice system in the first two years the drug court operated in Black Hawk County. Unlike the state’s crowded criminal courts, Bower says judges in these speciality courts are able to call offenders back into court within 24 hours of a probation violation.
“And something will be done right away, so that swift punishment acts as a great deterrent,” Bower says.
Judges who preside in these speciality courts for drug addicts and the mentally ill initially sentence people to intensive treatment and supervision rather than time sitting in a prison cell. Bower and other advocates are pressing legislators to provide more state funding to replace lost federal dollars.
Bower made his comments during a Monday afternoon appearance on Iowa Public Radio.