Federal funds available for Centre County drug court

The newly implemented Centre County drug court is on schedule to begin operation in October, but the project may get a financial boost the county did not expect.

The Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, which operates under the U.S. Department of Justice, recently announced a grant opportunity for state government entities considering implementation or enhancement of a therapeutic drug court.

Cathy Arbogast, assistant administrator for the Centre County Drug and Alcohol Office, presented the grant opportunity to the board of commissioners on Tuesday. The application will ask for $400,000, which is the maximum amount.

Drug court implementation was approved by the board in November, and the court will begin operation on Oct. 1. The court will generate three new county government jobs. Two positions will be added in the probation department and one in the Drug and Alcohol Office.

To be eligible for the federal money, the county must follow a set of guidelines detailed in the application:

▪ The grant cannot cover more than 75 percent of the implementation cost. Under the guideline, the county is responsible for just more than $130,000, according to Arbogast.

▪ The county would not be able to start a drug court until the awards have been allocated, but the Oct. 1 start date is after the grant award announcements in September.

▪ The BJA will not award grants to courts that require an initial period of incarceration, unless incarceration is required by statute. The federal expectation is that participants promptly enter the program upon being sentenced.

▪ The drug court program cannot deny access to anyone who is using FDA approved prescribed medication, such as Suboxone, for the treatment of substance abuse disorders.

▪  Only non-violent offenders and adults older than 18 can enter the program.

According to Arbogast, the county program is structured to follow the federal guidelines.

“The expectations they have with this are very close to what are considered the key components to a successful therapeutic court model,” Arbogast said. “We’ve worked within those guidelines for the DUI court and the drug court is very similar to that.”

In 2009, the county received a similar grant for the county DUI court, which Arbogast said they were able to spread out over 48 months as a result of expenditures being closely monitored. She expects the federal money would be handled the same way.

The commissioners unanimously pledged support for the application and voted to move approval to a future consent agenda.

The grant application is due Feb. 28.

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi