Rarely is the term “win-win” accurate for what it’s being used to describe. But if anything fits the bill, an action this week by the Greene County Commission certainly does.
The board approved increasing misdemeanor and felony court costs by $12.50. The extra money will fund a social worker position in the Greene County office of the Third Judicial District Public Defender. That social worker will help public defender’s office clients charged with non-violent offenses get rehabilitation services.
This arrangement offers the potential for a ripple effect of positive outcomes.
Assistant Public Defender Todd Estep told the commission’s Budget and Finance Committee earlier this month that the increasing number of methamphetamine cases in Greene County has created a different type of work flow for the Public Defender’s Office.
“We are seeing criminal offenses that are stemming from substance abuse,” he said. “In turn, that substance abuse often is part of mental health issues for the individual.”
The new system funded by the added court costs will aid defendants who want to get to the root of those issues, and get help in overcoming them. That, in turn, could help break the insidious cycle of addiction that turns many into repeat offenders and burdens on their family, friends and society.
Estep said that in addition to reducing the number of people in and out of jail for non-violent, drug-related crimes, he’s also hopeful the program can shorten defendants’ stays behind bars in the first place. About 95% of people represented by the Public Defender’s Office end up pleading guilty, he said, but many must wait months to get in front of a judge and do it. If rehabilitation services are in place for someone who wants to enter a plea, however, a judge may expedite the case.
That, in turn, will save taxpayers money, since the county has to pay the cost of keeping defendants incarcerated while they await their day in court.
This new program — and all the money collected for it must be used in Greene County — has the potential to ease the strain on the local justice system, save taxpayer dollars and, most importantly, give non-violent offenders struggling with drug addiction an avenue to recovery and regaining control of their lives.
Come to think of it, maybe this is not a “win-win.” Maybe it’s the even rarer “win-win-win.”