Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budget cuts for the state’s accountability courts could be “devastating” to the system, the head of the courts’ council said Tuesday (Jan. 28).
Hall County Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin said the governor’s proposed 8% cut for the accountability court system would eliminate key statewide positions and likely prevent 11 new courts from coming on line this July.
Accountability Courts, the centerpiece of Nathan Deal’s efforts to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system when he was governor, take in drug addicts, the mentally ill, veterans and those charged with DUI. The 18- to 24-month-long programs allow participants to avoid jail and prison time if they stay sober, get treatment, get an education and hold a job.
Over the past eight years, with increased funding and incentives, the number of such courts statewide has increased from 72 to 163, with the number of participants growing from about 3,000 to more than 12,000.
The cost savings can be enormous, Gosselin said, noting that housing an inmate in prison costs taxpayers about $18,000 a year, while the cost for an accountability court participant is about $3,600.
The proposed 8% cut in the fiscal 2021 budget would eliminate $2.2 million in state grants used to reimburse counties that paid the startup costs for new courts, Gosselin told the House Appropriations subcommittee on public safety. That includes funding for case managers, drug testing and surveillance visits by local law enforcement to ensure participants are complying with the programs, she said.
When pressed by subcommittee Chairman Andy Welch, R-McDonough, Gosselin said she believed the accountability system could absorb a 4% cut, not one twice that size.
The judge added that the cuts would have more of a detrimental effect on accountability courts in rural areas, where local counties are unable to provide as much additional funding support as those in metro areas. Startup courts will also suffer, largely for the same reason, Gosselin said.