Sequestration cuts to federal court system may cause public safety issue

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

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ATLANTA - Critics fear sequestration cuts within the federal court system is putting public safety in jeopardy.

The courts are dealing with fewer funds to track and provide services to ex-convicts and criminal suspects.

"The current fiscal year presents unparalleled challenges," said Chief Judge William B. Traxler, Jr., chairman of the Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States in a statement.

Several sources within the federal court system confirmed to Channel 2 Action News that funds have been reduced for probation and pretrial services.

Funds for drug testing, drug treatment and mental health treatment were all cut by 20 percent, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Funds also decreased for monitoring offenders and suspects, including GPS devices. These cuts are taking a toll on courts nationwide, including the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Advocates are raising serious concerns for public safety, because of fears that offenders will repeat their crimes if they are not given treatment, nor monitored adequately.

"I always say treatment is public safety and what the data show is that people in recovery commit less crimes," said Neil Kaltenecker with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman.

"Being addicted to drugs and alcohol robbed me of my coping skill on every level of my life," ex-convict Major Jordon told Stockman.

Jordan spent about nine years in prison and said he would still be there if it wasn't for drug treatment programs.

"Do you think you would still be committing crime to this day if you hadn't received that rehab?" Stockman asked.

"Absolutely," Jordan said.

The federal sequestration cuts are also taking a heavy toll on the Federal Defender Program, which is tasked with defending accused criminals, who cannot afford an attorney.

Stephanie Kearns, who heads up the Georgia federal defender program, said almost all of her employees are being forced to take furloughs.

"In my 29 years as executive director, I've never seen it this bad," Kearns told Stockman.

Kearns worries that council whom are overburdened with work, and forced to take furloughs, will ultimately cost taxpayers in the long run.

In fact, criminal prosecutions have been delayed because defender organizations do not have the staff necessary to continue their representation of the defendant or the funds to pay for experts or other cases costs, according to a statement from the Committee of the Judicial Conference.

"The judiciary is committed to doing its part to reduce the fiscal deficit our country faces. However, a significant problem arises when budget cuts impact our responsibilities under the Constitution," Traxler said.



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