Drug program advocates ask for leniency during budget cuts

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Advocates for Utah's probation drug court and the Drug Offender Reform Act (DORA) are trying to make their case to legislators that the state can't afford to cut their programs.

Basically, both programs help drug offenders get clean and stay out of jail. Those who have successfully made it through DORA, like Justin Lance, say the program saved their life.

"I've been incarcerated in the Utah County Jail 23 times," Lance said.

His good buddy Cody Marrott, who found help through the probation drug court, told us, "I've been through jail 33 times and used in their parking lot."

Both Utah County residents have the kind of past you usually hear about at funerals. That is until both of them got involved in the state's drug programs.

"These programs save lives," Marrott said.

"It works. It definitely works," Lance said.

Now their lives are different. Both have full-time jobs, pay their bills on time and pay taxes. Most importantly: no more drugs and no more jail.

Marrott and Lance are just two success stories. "I've seen miracles happen," said Seanna Williams, program director of DORA in Utah County.

Williams recently heard the drug court will see massive budget cuts and DORA will be eliminated. "It is life and death. It's always been life and death with substance abuse. People die, especially in Utah County. We have a lot of overdose deaths down here," she said.

Williams is worried more people will die if the programs are cut because of the budget crisis. "I would think these programs would take precedence over a 10-lane freeway," she said.

Then there's the case of rising crime because drug users need money, and jail overcrowding when they're caught.

"It is cheaper to have somebody on supervised parole and in a good program. If you do that, you can save a ton of money," said Joe Chamberlain, with Adult Probation and Parole.

Lance and Marrott are perfect examples of what can happen.

"It's nice being a part of what's going on around you, instead of the problem," Lance said.

"You can't put a dollar amount on life, and that's what these programs do: they save lives," Marrott said.

The groups are hoping lawmakers will take a hard look at their programs, especially since there really aren't any other state-funded programs like them. They understand cuts are necessary somewhere, they're just wondering at what cost for what cuts?

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

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