Treatment court bill soars through committees, heads to House floor

Rep. Bruce DeGroot (ALISHA SHURR/THE MISSOURI TIMES).

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Bolstering Missouri’s drug treatment courts may be a “feel-good” bill, but it is effective in reducing recidivism rates and changing lives, proponents testified.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB 2, which is one of two topics that brought lawmakers back early to the state Capitol for veto session. Over the summer, Gov. Mike Parson vetoed two bills — treatment courts and STEM legislation — and brought the General Assembly back to rework the proposals.

The bill filed by Rep. Kevin Austin is very similar to the original bill passed out of the Missouri House during the regular session, though it has some tweaks to “improve” the measure.

HB 2 would replace the term “drug courts” with “treatment courts” in state statute and place all treatment courts in Missouri under one regulatory umbrella. The state commission that oversees treatment courts would also be expanded by two new members, someone representing the criminal defense and someone representing prosecutors. The bill would also allow jurisdictions without a treatment court to transfer a defendant to another jurisdiction that does have a treatment court.

Greene County Commissioner Peggy Davis (ALISHA SHURR/THE MISSOURI TIMES).
Greene County Commissioner Peggy Davis (ALISHA SHURR/THE MISSOURI TIMES).

“It’s hard to come here and just talk about statistics because everyday we see a change in lives and I don’t know how to put a dollar on that. I don’t know how you put a dollar on someone getting out of the system and their kids never ever ever being a criminal defendant,” said Greene County Commissioner Peggy Davis, who is on the Drug Courts Coordinating Commission, at the hearing.

But she also provided preliminary data that showed Missouri treatment courts to be a huge success. A study that looked at Greene County found that felony offenders who went through treatment court were 49 percent less likely to reoffend. She also pointed to national data collaborated treatment courts reducing recidivism rates.

Austin called the courts “great success” at keeping people out of prison and turning offenders into “productive citizens.”

“[Drug courts] don’t look anything like they did 20-years-ago,” said Davis. “We have learned what does and doesn’t work.”

Jackson County established the first treatment court in 1993. And since then they expanded throughout that state, with there being 147 treatment court programs in 2017.

There are five types of treatment courts defined in the bill and would place all under the same regulatory umbrella. Under the legislation, a circuit court to establish a “Treatment Court Division,” which may include cases assigned to an adult treatment court, driving while intoxicated (DWI) court, family treatment court, juvenile treatment court, or veterans treatment court.

According to the fiscal note with the bill, there is no cost to the state. Austin contends that the bill will save the state money by reducing recidivism rates and reforming offenders into “productive citizens.”

Rep. Bruce DeGroot did note that while there are grants available for treatment courts — federal and private — someone is paying for it.

“It’s not monopoly money we are getting,” he said.

“Most people know I’m not much of a ‘feel-good’ bill kind of guy,” said DeGroot. He is still in support of the bill, noting “I think it is cost-effective. I’ve seen it in action.”

The bill unanimously passed out the judiciary and legislative oversight committee. It now moves to the House floor.