Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Floyd County Times - Greg Stumbo on DPA SW Program and other innovations

A legislative perspective

Kentucky has gotten a lot of attention over the years when it comes to finding innovative ways to govern. Our education reforms of the 1990s were hailed as national models, for example, and we are the only state to permanently dedicate half of our annual tobacco settlement payments to agriculture, a move that has played a key role in the industry’s record sales in recent years.

Two other programs took a step into the national spotlight early this month when a Harvard University-based center included them among the 25 that will compete this fall for its Innovations in American Government Award.
As its name implies, the Department of Public Advocacy’s alternative sentencing social worker program pairs a social worker with public defenders to help provide treatment plans for those charged with lower level drug charges. 
The General Assembly authorized this as a pilot program in 2006, and found it to be an immediate success in helping those arrested escape the cycle of drugs. Of the 229 defendants served by the four social workers, only eight were re-arrested.

Similar success has been seen since the program went statewide in 2009. According to studies by the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, there is a double boost behind these programs. One study found that each participating social worker has saved more than $100,000 in incarceration costs, while the other showed a sizeable drop in the number of inmates who returned to prison if they had received substance abuse treatment. As the state’s revenues continue to improve, we will have to see if we can expand this nationally recognized program’s reach even more.
The General Assembly will always have to be vigilant when it comes to curbing illegal drug use – or tackling any other persistent problem – but we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. As we have shown over the years, and as organizations like Harvard’s center have found, we are not afraid to be innovative, and that is why other states are increasingly looking to Kentucky for solutions that work.

Read more: Floyd County Times (KY) - A legislative perspective