Nevada Specialty Courts Poised to Expand Under New Funding

6/22/2015 10:17:18 AM

The Nevada Legislature expanded specialty court services statewide and agreed to restore funding for specialty court programs under legislation signed into law June 11 by Governor Brain Sandoval. Specialty Courts include diversion programs such as drug, mental health, DUI, veterans’ and other problem-solving courts.

Effective July 1, 2015, the legislature earmarked $3 million per year for each year of the biennium from the state general fund to provide specialty court services to an additional 800-900 participants. In addition, the legislature allocated $1.4 million to restore specialty court funding to FY 2015 levels.

“With this additional funding, I believe our legislators understand it is better to give people an opportunity to improve their condition – whether it be from drugs, alcohol, or mental health – rather than place them in jails and increase the burden on taxpayers for funding incarceration,” said Justice Michael L. Douglas, chairman of the Specialty Court Funding Committee.

The funding erases an expected 15-percent shortfall and allows courts to expand diversion programs to move people out of jails and into court-monitored therapeutic intervention programs. Chief Justice James W. Hardesty said the additional money will create opportunities in the rural courts that have not existed before.

“One of the most significant achievements of the judiciary this session was the additional funding for specialty courts,” said Chief Justice Hardesty. “I would like to express my appreciation to the legislature and the governor for their support of the specialty court program and their recognition of the numerous benefits for individual defendants and the community at large that can be achieved by specialty courts in our state.”

The Supreme Courts’ Specialty Court Funding Committee will meet at 1 p.m. August 21 in Carson City to consider how to appropriate the additional funding to Nevada’s specialty courts.

“Maintaining the funding level for specialty courts is so important to the people we serve in southern Nevada,” said Judge Adriana Escobar, Specialty Court Judge for the Eighth Judicial District Court. “This means intervention and therapeutic programs will continue to provide individuals with a way to break the cycle of addiction while saving millions of dollars in taxes by decreasing repeated incarceration and making our communities safer.”

Senior Judge Peter Breen created Washoe County’s drug court in 1995. Since its creation, the court has assisted thousands of individuals break drug habits and return to a productive life. Specialty courts have saved incarceration costs and allowed individuals to learn new skills.

“The Nevada State Legislature is to be commended for its general fund appropriation in this year’s session for our Specialty Courts. It has demonstrated vision for a safer future for the citizens of the State of Nevada by establishing a funding source for the stability and growth of our Specialty Courts, the most significant innovation in the American Judiciary for reducing recidivism in the last 75 years,” said Judge Breen. “As a veteran judge of these courts in Nevada for the last 20 years, we have suffered from instability and insufficient funding. While previous legislatures have been kind to us, I have ended many speeches with the phrase, “I will know we have arrived when we are part of some entity’s general fund budget”. We have arrived thanks to the legislature, Governor Sandoval, and Chief Justice Hardesty. Now our judges will be able to secure, strengthen, and expand our programs throughout the length and breadth of this great state of ours.”