Specialty courts for people charged with drug or alcohol offenses provide a good alternative for non-violent offenders, according to one legal expert.
Martha Troxell, professor of legal studies, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, presented her findings on specialty courts in the state to The Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board.
"I think they work," she told the board, which met at Pennsylvania College of Technology Friday. "They are cost-effective. They put productive citizens back in society who otherwise would not have a chance."
Specialty courts include drug, alcohol, mental health and treatment courts.
While more common in urban areas, they operate throughout the state.
Troxell noted that officials of many counties have been hesitant to include them in their judicial system.
Often, she said, officials will take steps to include specialty courts after weighing a number of factors, including:
Current prison overcrowding
Costs of trials
Number of repeat offenders
Recognition of a high incidence of mental health issues in prisons
Recognition that joblessness often is tied to drug, alcohol or mental health problems
Troxell also noted that the establishment of a specialty court can happen when the president judge advocates for it.
However, the biggest obstacle, according to Troxell, is the cost.
Also, misperceptions of specialty courts can help prevent them from being established.
Officials can be particularly concerned about potential caseloads of a specialty court and how it will be staffed.
Unfortunately, a solid study showing the benefits of the specialty courts including dollar savings needs to be done, Troxell noted.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the state General Assembly.