On a unanimous vote, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that allows participants of an Arkansas county’s specialty court program to transfer to an intrastate program in a different county.
Specialty Courts, also called drug or treatment courts, allow those who are charged with a criminal offense, but also have a history of substance abuse to enter programs that, according to the Arkansas Judiciary’s website, "integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services within justice system case processing," as opposed to entering the criminal justice system.
According to the Arkansas Judiciary’s website, there are a total of seven forms of specialty courts in the state: Adult Drug Court, Juvenile Drug Court, DWI Court, HOPE/SWIFT Court, Mental Health Court, Veterans Treatment Court and Family Drug Court. Though not having one of the listed programs, at least two counties in Arkansas do have a “alternative sentencing program."
47 counties in the state have Adult Drug Specialty Court programs.
Under House Bill 1059, a specialty court judge would have the authority to transfer a participant’s case to a different specialty court program in Arkansas as long as the new specialty court judge gave their consent.
Melissa Richardson, the Division Nine Judge for Arkansas’ 2nd Judicial Circuit, spoke in favor of the bill, in particular on the aspect of transferring participants to a different intrastate program.
"In the program and in all types of recovery programs that address addiction, it is frequently said that you have to change your people, places and things. The people that you were with, the places that you were at and the things you were doing that brought you to that criminal court room, where you stood up and pled guilty to a criminal offense, you have to change those three things," Richardson said.
The bill also legally establishes the creation of veterans’ treatment specialty court programs as well as driving or boating while intoxicated specialty court programs.
Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, the bill’s sponsor, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the Specialty Court Advisory Board spoke on the board’s recommendation of establishing a specialty court program just for veterans.
"The board saw after reviewing the programs that there is a need in our state to address veterans and the issues that they may be having and the specialty courts that were, or are existing at the time didn’t meet the specific need that a veteran may have," Dalby said.
The committee also voted to advance two other bills Dalby sponsored. One bill would fix a loophole concerning the registering of out-of-state sex offenders once they moved to Arkansas.
Another bill would allow jurors in Arkansas to donate either their per diem compensation or their miles reimbursement to a list of five eligible non-profits that have yet to be selected.
The bills now head to the full House for consideration.