KOKOMO, Ind. – A Howard County drug court judge says some of the county’s most successful programs that deal with drug offenders could soon disappear if more staff isn’t hired to handle an ever-increasing caseload.
Judge William Menges said the programs include drug treatment and a domestic violence initiative, but some county commissioners aren’t sold on his concerns.
Since 2006, Judge Menges said Howard County’s drug court, which he oversees, has helped many offenders get their lives back. But now, he said his staff is overwhelmed by the number of drug cases coming through the court because of the current opioid crisis.
“We cannot continue to meet our core function and continue to offer ancillary services,” said Menges.
Those ancillary services, the judge said, include domestic violence prevention, along with medically-assisted drug treatments and court-assisted reentry programs.
“These programs are phenomenally successful,” said Menges.
He said the number of drug court offenders that go back to jail is just under 25 percent, compared with nearly 97 percent of offenders who don’t go through specialty programs.
“The answer to this is very simple,” said County Commission President Paul Wyman. “It’s just a matter of redistributing the cases within the courthouse amongst all the judges.”
Wyman, however, said the solution is not to hire additional staff, but to distribute drug cases to other judges who may have fewer cases to handle.
“I have no fear of drug court going away,” said Wyman. “If Judge Menges is too busy, then we’ll certainly give it to one of the other judges.”
Judge Menges said if the county wants to continue the success of the programs, it has to be willing to spend the money to do so. Wyman counters that it’s about using tax money wisely.
“To me it’s about becoming more efficient at what we do and helping the people who need help,” said Wyman.
Menges says redistributing cases to other judges isn’t feasible, and will present his argument to the commission at its next meeting.
“If they don’t give me funds to hire somebody,” said Menges, “it means we cut out the ancillary services.”
Menges will present his case to the commission at its next meeting on February 27.