Montco Judge Makes Plea For Drug Court

Montgomery County Judge Stephen O’Neill has urged the county commissioners to keep the drug court he supervises in next year’s budget.

At Thursday’s meeting he said they need alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders with drug addictions, so a prison expansion project that starts next year is only part of the answer.

“We’re about to add 512 beds, and I think most people in the criminal justice system know that they’re already spoken for.  They’re spoken for by the violent criminals, the criminals that need to be in prison.  The problem is that this prison is overcrowded.  It does not include the treatment that will reduce recidivism in the future and treat the disease of addiction like society treats the disease of cancer.”

Judge O’Neill said it stresses treatment, rather than punishment, for non-violent offenders.  Commissioner Bruce Castor said he approved the drug court more than three years ago when he was district attorney, but he is not sure that the $585,000 dollar cost is justified during a recession.

“It does not mean I won’t vote for the budget if this number is in there because our budget is 400 million plus, and this is a relatively small amount, but I do think it has not been proven to me to be cost-effective.  It may change my mind over time, and Judge O’Neill is certainly a very capable and persuasive jurist, but I am unconvinced at this point.”

Chairman Jim Matthews and Vice Chairman Joe Hoeffel both said they will vote to keep the drug court in the budget.