Victoria County District Attorney Constance Filley Johnson spoke to the business community Wednesday about the county’s new felony drug court.
Filley Johnson presented at the Victoria Chamber of Commerce June luncheon, hosted at Hilton Garden Inn Victoria, 123 Huvar St., on how the court will operate, what a similar DWI court has done and why the shift to addressing recidivism can help keep folks out of jail and on the right path. Within circles outside of criminal justice in Victoria, keeping repeat offenders out of incarceration can benefit the community in more ways than public safety.
The new court, the Community Alliance for Recovery and Empowerment Court or CARE Court, will work to give drug offenders an opportunity for rehabilitation rather than incarceration. The program will incorporate volunteer work and assistance from the Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach nonprofit.
“In addition to being on probated sentences, they are forced to attend outpatient treatment, so that we can have some hope of breaking up cycles, so that we don’t see them over and over and over again in our court system,” she said.
Keeping people from being incarcerated saves on county costs, she said, by keeping people out of jail, which can cost on average about $50 per day, or out of prison, which can cost on average about $46 to $82 per year.
The CARE Court has been approved by the Victoria County Commissioners Court, but it still must be signed off by the state’s Office of Court Administration.
Among a wide variety of Victoria’s leaders in the crowd, Victoria College President Jennifer Kent said Victoria College wants to be part of the solution.
Kent said she plans to meet with Filley Johnson to discuss how “graduated” people from the special drug felony court can attain more education and go on to have jobs that allow them to provide for themselves.
“Ultimately, when someone has the means to earn a living wage, that’s when they can change their life, whether they’re incarcerated or whether they’re not,” she said.
While still in the early stages of planning, Kent said she is looking forward to working with Filley Johnson as well as employers and others in the criminal justice system, despite a lack in precedent for rehabilitated people looking for employment.
“Straight out of the Code of Criminal Procedure — that’s article 2.01 — it says it shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys not to convict but to see that justice is done,” Filley Johnson said. “So, we’re balancing competing interests sometimes, so retribution deterrence and rehabilitation, and you got to find what is the appropriate match for any given case. There’s no cookie cutter resolution to the cases that we work on.”
The chamber has hosted representatives from criminal justice recently when former sheriff and current U.S. Marshal T. Michael O’Connor spoke about his first year in his new role at the chamber’s annual banquet in January.
Chamber President Jeff Lyon announced Dr. John Beck as the chamber’s community partner of the month for June for the clay shoot events that the Victoria Rotary Club has hosted since 1996. The clay shoots have acted as benefits for groups like the Boys and Girls Club, Lyon said, and that Lyon is glad to give the award to someone who needs to be recognized.