published Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Tennessee drug courts to be under new management

NASHVILLE — Management and oversight of state drug court programs across Tennessee will be moved to the Department of Mental Health on July 1 under an executive order signed by Gov. Bill Haslam.

The move is effective July 1 and affects some three dozen drug courts, including Hamilton County’s.

Haslam said in a news release that his Executive Order No. 12, which transfers management from the Department of Finance and Administration to Mental Health, is part of his administration’s ongoing effort to boost government “efficiency and effectiveness.”

“Management and oversight of Tennessee’s drug court programs are consistent with the focus of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and we believe it makes more sense for the department to manage these programs,” Haslam said in a news release.

The department is officially adding “substance abuse services” to its name on July 1 under legislation approved by lawmakers this session.

Drug courts were created to provide an alternative to jail and prison and are intended to help people arrested for drug-related crimes deal with their addictions.

The Haslam administration says that for many of those arrested, “prison is not the answer, and research has shown treatment costs are lower than costs association with incarceration.”

Drug courts refer participants to substance abuse community agencies that provide intervention and treatment services. Those services are already funded, contracted with and licensed by the Mental Health Department.

Because of that, Haslam said, “we believe it makes more sense for the department to manage these programs.”

The state budget going into effect July 1 provides $3.82 million for drug courts, Mental Health spokesman Grant Lawrence said.

Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney said, “We are facing a major prescription drug problem in our state. We need to focus all of our resources in the most efficient, effective and collaborative way to maximize our impact on this issue and drug abuse overall.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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