OKC drug court faces expansion trouble

Thursday, July 31st 2008, 7:05 pm
By: News 9

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It helps hundreds of people stay out of prison and get off drugs, but the Oklahoma County Drug Court doesn't have enough money to expand. A lack of expansion could cause a major problem for the county jail and Department of Corrections.

Judge Carol Ann Hubbard is the presiding judge over the Oklahoma County Drug Court program and she's passionate about it.

"For the people in my program, they seem to think this helps them get to the root of the problem and move on with a life that's respectable and that you and I can feel safe that they have," Hubbard said.

The program is a last resort, for drug offenders, heading to prison. Either they clean up their lives and get a job, or they must go to the Department of Corrections.

"It helps address addiction problems, both drug and alcohol addiction problems, so that we don't see offenders come back into our system over and over and over," Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said.

The program has enough state funding for 620 people to participate. Right now, it's completely full.

"We have basically had to cut off any new pleas into the drug court program," Prater said.

For the county to accept a new participant, someone must graduate or get kicked out. This sort of situation could potentially jam up the prison system.

"People will back up in the county jail waiting to go into the program or some of those offenders will probably take a prison sentence," Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz said.

Both the district attorney and public defender want to expand the program, and add 100 more spots. Adding more spots will cost nearly $400,000. They thought the Department of Mental Health would hand over that money, but they haven't seen it so far.

"It's not a good situation because we have appropriate candidates we're waiting to plead into drug court," Prater said. "Now, you're only alternative is prison."

The DA and the Public Defender's office will meet with the Department of Mental Health next week to get funding, if that doesn't work, they'll head straight to the legislature.

The Department of Mental Health may give more money to drug courts that need it, only if other courts in the state are not using all of the funding earmarked for them.