- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) The state budget crisis has hit all sectors of Virginia, but mayors and county supervisors across the state say programs to help prisoners, drug abusers and juvenile offenders have suffered the most.
Some programs have been slashed in half. Others have been given a death sentence.
"Public safety and juvenile programs are the hardest hit," said Richmond Mayor Rudolph McCollum, who last week pleaded with Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner to restore a 50 percent cut in juvenile justice funds.
In Hampton, city officials may have to abort the launch of a special court program that steers drug abusers toward recovery. Its state funding has disappeared.
In Newport News, state budget cuts could cost the jobs of six persons who help youths in trouble with the law.
In Williamsburg and the Middle Peninsula, programs for ex-prisoners who must adjust to life in the outside world face the prospect of no money, and coordinators are looking to the community for help.
"It's a disaster. I shudder to think what's going to happen," said Jean Auldridge, director of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants. "We want to be smart on crime, and being smart is helping people who need help."
Faced with Virginia's worst fiscal crisis in 10 years, state lawmakers slashed criminal justice programs on their way to closing a $3.8 billion budget gap. Mr. Warner has until April 8 to file his own budget amendments, and he could decide to restore some of the money.
Spokesman Kevin Hall said Mr. Warner has promised nothing beyond a thorough review.
"The governor is going to spend a lot of time in the coming week reviewing the General Assembly's recommendations on the budget and policy issues," he said last week.
In deciding what to cut, lawmakers said they scrutinized programs that were not statewide. They were critical of any program without hard data to back up claims of success, and stressed a return to the "core" functions of government. So, relatively new programs got a long, hard look.
Victims include drug courts in localities around the state. The specialized courts combine strict supervision, constant monitoring and repeat appearances before a judge to help addicts turn their lives around. Thirteen localities or regions have drug courts now, and nine more are planning to start a program this year.
Hampton wanted to start a drugcourt this year, and city officials are pursuing a $500,000 federal start-up grant, said Mary Bunting, assistant city manager. But the federal grant requires matching state money, which means the city might have to abandon its effort.
"The biggest concern is that the federal government will stop funding drug courts altogether if the state zeroes out funding," Miss Bunting said.
Fredericksburg Commonwealth's Attorney Charles Sharp, who heads the Virginia Drug Court Association, said the state's two older drug courts one in the Roanoke area, the other in Charlottesville have a track record of success, he said.
"I imagine if these cuts remain, the drug court programs that survive will not be as extensive as they have been, or should be," he said.


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