Former DA seeks to bring back drug court despite the obstacles

Former Plumas County District Attorney James Reichle has been working to revive drug court — a program that he established back in the ‘90s — but has hit a wall.

“It is now clear that the degree of personal and institutional distrust and dysfunction that resulted in the shutdown in May precludes any possible agreement on policies and procedures defining the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved that are necessary to a functioning Drug Court,” Reichle told the board of supervisors last week. He was unable to complete the entirety of his prepared remarks during the three minutes allotted for public comment, so he left printed copies for the board.

To have a successful drug court, the district attorney’s office, the courts, probation and behavioral health must work together. Reichle acknowledged that when the program was first implemented there was institutional distrust between mental health and law enforcement, but it was overcome. However, policies and procedures were never adopted to institutionalize the arrangement. In 2012, an attempt was made to rectify that by bringing in an outside expert to write policies and procedures, but those weren’t formally adopted either, which has resulted in the finger pointing of who is at fault today for the drug court’s demise.

“Without written drug court program materials, I am assuming that the Board did not have significant discussion with candidates to head the Probation Department and Behavioral Health regarding their understanding and commitment to a successful Drug Court,” Reichle wrote. “You have lost your Drug Court in part because your Probation and BH department heads have decided they will not share drug testing and counseling results with the Drug Court Management Team including the court and District Attorney. Drug testing to verify compliance is obviously essential to the function of a Drug Court.”

But the problem is more than the lack of data sharing. “Personalities as well as departmental turf wars have played a part in our current dysfunction,” he wrote.

Reichle reiterated that written policies would override personalities and encouraged the Board of Supervisors to act quickly to restore drug court, which has proven effective in changing the behavior of county residents who commit crimes because of substance abuse issues. He suggested that the board establish an ad hoc committee that could work with the partners and bring back a recommendation to the full board.

We couldn’t agree more. The District Attorney has released statistics that indicate crime is on the upswing in Plumas County and our weekly Sheriff’s Blotter is increasingly populated by arrests of those under the influence. Drug Court is a state program, and we should be taking advantage of all sources of revenue and support that can serve our population and address crime that results from substance abuse.

The real increase

In last week’s editorial regarding pay increases for elected officials, we mentioned that Behavioral Health Director Bob Brunson received a 30 percent pay increase during his short tenure with the county. That number was incorrect; he received a raise that took his annual salary from $130,000 to $135,000. We apologize for any inconvenience that might have caused him.