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Here’s a quick look at the impact that the House budget (being released in piecemeal fashion) would have on the courts:

Magistrates: Adds 16 magistrates to counties currently with only three, in line with the Governor’s proposal. The Senate proposed restoring 39.5 magistrate positions, to four magistrates per county, at a cost of $1.8 million.

Court reporters: No cuts to state court reporters, in line with the Governor’s budget. The Senate had proposed cutting court reporting funds and positions by half, with the savings to be used for contracts with private vendors.

Administrative Office of the Courts: Reduces the AOC budget by $3 million, in line with the Senate budget.

Funds for interpreters, expert witnesses and jury fees: Appropriates $1 million, in line with the Senate and the Governor.

Special Superior Court Judges: No cuts, in line with the Governor’s budget. The Senate proposed eliminating 12 Special Superior Court judgeships.

Drug Treatment Courts: No funding for Drug Treatment Courts, consistent with the Senate budget. The Governor’s budget appropriates $3.36 million to restore them statewide.

Prisoner Legal Services: Reduces that contract by $231,000 “to reflect decline in number of inmates,” consistent with the Governor’s budget. The Senate had proposed to eliminate the contract completely, using “prison legal terminals” instead.

 

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The idea of cutting costs in the criminal justice system seems like it would be a common sense idea that would appeal to conservatives and progressives alike. In recent years, one of the most effective tools in advancing this objective has been the rise of alternatives to the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach of the “war on drugs” years.

Put simply, some smart people finally figured out that it’s a heckuva lot cheaper and more effective to help drug addicts escape the clutches of their health crises than it is to merely throw them in jail. Hence, the eminently sensible and highly effective concept of “drug courts” that seek to effect just such an outcome.

Yesterday, New Jersey’s conservative Republican governor, Chris Christie, signed a bill that makes his state the first in the nation to mandate drug treatment rather than jail time for drug-abusers convicted of nonviolent crimes. Good for him and good for New Jersey. Let’s hope their program is an off-the-charts success.

Now, if only conservatives running the North Carolina General Assembly could see (or remember) the obvious wisdom in this approach. Read More