What about Bob?

Drug courts save lives and save money. That's not good enough for St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

But McCulloch says he won't budge. He says he's not concerned with what goes on outside St. Louis County. "If it works for (Kansas City and the city of St. Louis), that's fine with me," McCulloch says. "If they're happy with it, that's great."

McCulloch says he can't say whether drug courts in the city of St. Louis or Kansas City are successful, because he's not familiar with those programs. "I haven't really taken a good look at either one," he says. "I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to them."

Drug court is tough -- at least a third of the defendants flunk out, according to national research. In addition to intensive drug treatment and court supervision, they must obtain employment, get job training or enroll in a GED program, if they don't have a high-school diploma. If they owe child support, they must pay it. Given these requirements, offenders need carrots to choose drug court. In St. Louis and Kansas City, the carrots go beyond the promise of no felony record -- they include no immediate guilty plea, because once a defendant is in drug court, a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and drug counselors will all be keeping close tabs. "People are paying attention to what you do when you're in drug court," McCaskill says. "They're not paying attention most of the time on traditional probation. Why would you go into this program, why would any lawyer recommend that you go into this program, if it's tougher than traditional probation?"

Commissioner Barbara Peebles, who presides over drug court in the city of St. Louis: "I absolutely think drug courts work. Oftentimes in the criminal-justice system, you do not 
see the results of what you do as making a difference in the lives of people."
Jennifer Silverberg
Commissioner Barbara Peebles, who presides over drug court in the city of St. Louis: "I absolutely think drug courts work. Oftentimes in the criminal-justice system, you do not see the results of what you do as making a difference in the lives of people."

Pat Conroy, a private defense attorney who's had about 30 clients in city drug court and none in the county, says clients in both jurisdictions often opt for probation, even though they end up with felonies on their records. "To be honest with you, some of my clientele would prefer to be on straight probation," Conroy says. "They've got less responsibilities. Either way, you're looking at jail if you screw up. I've had people fairly regularly tell me, 'Mr. Conroy, it's easier for me to get one year's probation than deal with all the crap down here in drug court.'"

Adding to the disincentive to try county drug court is McCulloch's policy of pushing for jail time instead of probation for defendants who flunk out. In the city, defendants who fail drug court are treated as if they'd never been in the program, so they often get probation. Not so in the county. "It's no different from a guy who walks in and pleads guilty and gets probation and screws up his probation and gets revoked," McCulloch says. "We're not going to put him on probation again. We're going to sentence him to jail."

Last Friday, says McCulloch, a man was sentenced to a year in jail after he was arrested on a new charge despite nearly a year in county drug court. Residential drug treatment, shock incarceration and boot camp while under drug-court supervision hadn't done any good, McCulloch says. Most likely, neither will jail, he concedes. "Perhaps it will wake him up," the prosecutor says. "But I wouldn't bet on it."

Drug-court supporters say the programs save money and have a better shot at curbing drug problems than incarceration or probation. "The benefits of drug courts are clear," Chief Justice Price told the Missouri General Assembly in a January speech. "Cost savings are substantial and the likelihood of rehabilitation is greatly increased. Drug courts are the right and the efficient thing to do." State Appeals Court Judge James Dowd, whose grandfather raided opium dens where Busch Stadium now stands, saw his share of drug cases as a circuit judge in St. Louis. He says he started the city's drug court because he grew frustrated at sentencing defendants to probation, knowing it wouldn't do any good. "You'd have your probation revocation, sure as the sun rises, six, eight months later," Dowd recalls. "It was not working more than it was working. We've taken a zero-tolerance hardball stand on drugs since my grandpa was a cop back in the '20s and '30s and '40s. They thought they were solving the problem. I don't think they did. As probation doesn't work as much as it does, I think drug courts work more than they don't work. I think we've basically flip-flopped our probability of success."

The state has reduced the county's $492,000 drug-court allocation -- money used for treatment -- by $187,000 because the money has gone unspent. More reductions in state funds could come if more defendants won't play by McCulloch's rules. Conversely, the money could be restored if more defendants sign up, says Tim Kniest, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, which administers state drug-court funds. Noting that 10 new defendants have enrolled in drug court since Jan. 1, Judge Seigel thinks the county's docket will fill up as prosecutors relax the rules for admission -- the program was initially limited to first-time offenders, but prosecutors recently began enrolling defendants with prior convictions, including people on active probation for previous felonies. The theory is that they'll be more likely to enter drug court because jail is a pretty sure threat for a felon who gets in trouble again. The changes don't go far enough for many defense attorneys who want McCulloch to stop demanding guilty pleas.

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