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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Treatment courts' save state money, judges say

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Circuit Judge Steven Alm

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Hawai'i court officials, including judges who oversee "treatment courts" that boast high success rates in turning around the lives of criminal offenders, appeared before legislators yesterday to argue that further budget cuts will cost the state more money than it would save.

Circuit Judge Steven Alm, founder and chief advocate of the HOPE probation program, told lawmakers that it costs $1.82 a day to supervise a HOPE probationer but $139 a day to incarcerate the same offender.

The program, which has shown steep drops in criminal recidivism, has gained national attention and is now being emulated in several Mainland jurisdictions.

Drug treatment for HOPE probationers costs $775,000 per year and is "a critical part" of the program, Alm told members of the state House Judiciary Committee.

If that funding is cut, those probationers will have to be jailed or "let out on their own" while they wait to be accepted to a treatment program, Alm said.

According to figures provided to the committee by Tom Mick of the Judiciary's Policy and Planning Department, the annual cost of incarcerating the 1,483 probationers now in HOPE would be $75.2 million.

The committee also heard from judges who oversee Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Girls Court, and the Family and Juvenile Drug Court programs.

All the judges told the committee their programs have been very successful in diverting offenders from continued criminal conduct, saving society millions of dollars that would have been spent on police, prosecution and imprisonment.

Judge Bode Uale, who oversees the Family Drug Court, urged lawmakers not to lose sight of the "human element" of the court's work.

The court not only helps parents with drug problems, who have a recidivism rate of 6 percent, get better, but also allows them to be reunited with their children, Uale said.

Judge Robert Browning, who runs the Juvenile Drug Court, said, "Our program works. It makes a difference."

The juveniles who complete the program "are not just clean and sober, but we demand that they be contributing members of society," Browing said.