A new report says Kentuckians facing drug-related offenses are getting into substance abuse treatment programs faster because of the effectiveness of the state's Rocket Docket program.
Rocket Docket permits a local commonwealth's or county attorney to expedite cases through the judicial system. It also allows select defendants rapid access to substance abuse treatment, generating significant cost savings to local county jails.
The Prosecutors Advisory Council (PAC) provided information on Kentucky's more than 30 Rocket Docket programs to the Attorney General Andy Beshear's office for the report, which examined data from July 16, 2015, to November 30, 2018.
At the beginning of that period, the Department of Corrections reported a felony drug offender spent an average of 115 days in a local jail. As of last November 30, that average had dropped to 21 days in jail -- a 94-day difference.
According to the office of Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery, the average for the 28th Judicial Circuit (which includes Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties) is just 11.5 days in jail.
"Substance abuse is Kentucky's most overpowering, prevalent problem," Beshear stated. "It's impacting every community, hurting families and our economy, and putting law enforcement in danger. Rocket Docket programs are clearly helping us with this battle by providing treatment to Kentuckians quicker so they can take back their life from this debilitating epidemic."
Beshear added that the programs are saving the state money too.
Based on the data presented to PAC, more than 18,300 cases have moved through the Rocket Docket programs over the 40-month period. Had offenders remained in jail the 115 days, the cost would have been $98.9 million. By comparison, 21 days cost just $16.6 million -- an $82 million savings.
A savings of $4,375,658 has been seen in the 28th Judicial Circuit with 889 cases moving through the local Rocket Docket program in that time span. "That ranks us the third most savings out of the judicial circuits currently participating in Rocket Docket programs in the state," Assistant Pulaski County Attorney Kenton Lanham said.
Lanham handles Rocket Docket cases in Pulaski County. The local program is a joint effort between Montgomery's office and that of County Attorney Martin Hatfield.
Of those 889 total cases in the circuit, according to Montgomery's office, 343 participants were ordered to receive some sort of drug treatment.
According to the report, of the 18,300 cases completed through the Rocket Docket program, nearly 10,800 defendants -- 60 percent -- were identified, assessed and sent to substance abuse treatment.
With new programs in Bell, Henderson, Marion and Taylor counties; there is a total of 35 Rocket Dockets in Kentucky. PAC recently voted to allow a second grant application cycle this month to allow newly-elected county and commonwealth's attorneys to apply for funding in their circuits.
"The Prosecutors Advisory Council Rocket Docket Program's success cannot be measured in just the amount of money that it has saved the state but must also reflect its constructive impact for the people who are participating in it," PAC Executive Director Bobby Stokes stated. "In both measures, its success is undeniable and borne out by the fact that the Rocket Docket Program has tripled in award recipients in just three years."
The General Assembly approved Beshear's 2016 request to use funds his office recovered from a lawsuit settlement with drugmaker Risperdal to support the Rocket Docket program.
Beshear also committed $8 million from a lawsuit the AG's office won against the opioid drugmaker of OxyContin to support 15 substance abuse treatment centers and organizations serving more than 50 communities. His office is currently transferring $1.5 million from the same settlement to the Kentucky Justice Cabinet to support Operation UNITE, a nonprofit serving 32 southern and eastern Kentucky counties (including Pulaski) in preventing drug abuse and facilitating treatment.
Kentucky now leads the nation in the number of individual opioid lawsuits filed by an attorney general. Beshear has said if the nine pharmaceutical companies are not willing to reach a settlement for the alleged harm they have caused statewide, he wants each case to go before a Kentucky jury.