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Grants help with cost of court programs

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A number of grants will help Gwinnett County administer accountability courts intended to help people overcome addictions and other issues instead of spend time in jail for crimes related to them.

Earlier this month, commissioners approved five grants totalling nearly $1 million for the county's DUI and drug courts, plus new ventures for a mental health court and juvenile accountability court.

"I believe that Accountability Courts are a good idea," Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. "The data from those that have been operating for a while are encouraging in terms of reducing recidivism, which should eventually have a positive impact on reducing the incarceration rate. This should help us control future costs for county jails and correctional institutions, as well as help the state with its prison system costs."

In the eight years since the county began its drug court, 129 people have graduated from the program and 14 drug-free babies have been born, coordinator Priscilla Daniels said. Another 268 people have graduated from the DUI court program and both have about 75 participants currently involved. The mental health court began operations last month.

"It's designed to keep people from coming in and out, in and out (of jail). Historically people with a mental illness are housed longer on the same offenses," said Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers, who oversees the mental health court. "It's to stop the revolving door of that process."

The courts, Nash said, are costly because of the intensive supervision needed, and the government does not always see a match in savings in the future to match the extra costs up front, especially since the state, not the county bears most of the impact of incarceration costs.

"The state has partially addressed this mismatch by providing grants for Accountability Courts, and we are very appreciative of the funding provided through these," she said, adding that the grants do not cover all of the additional costs.

"Bottom line, I think we have to pursue Accountability Courts but we cannot count on it to reduce costs immediately either for the county or state," she said.