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State budget bolsters criminal justice system

Funds from the state budget are impacting the justice system, lawyers and their clients.

Gov. Mike Parson approved the 2023 budget by the June 30 deadline.

“A budget is about priorities, and our administration is confident these are the right priorities to make a strong Missouri even stronger in 2022,” Parson wrote in a June 19 release.

The St. Louis Forensic Treatment Center North Facility is receiving $2.8 million to expand care and treatment for individuals whom courts find “unable to proceed to trial.”

Debra Walker, a public information officer for the Department of Mental Health, responded to a call but did not provide an emailed response by press time. According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health website, its Division of Behavioral Health operates the psychiatric facility, which hosts 230 beds for forensic inpatient treatment. As Missouri statutes direct, criminal courts commit defendants to the facility for competency restoration or if they are determined to be not guilty due to mental reason or defect, or if a court finds them to be permanently incompetent to stand trial.

St. Louis City Circuit Court Communications Director Jacob Long said in an emailed statement that it is rare for its pretrial detention defendants to be sent to this treatment center.

“It’s my understanding that the process of getting into the St. Louis Forensic Treatment Center is much, much longer and legally different from the referrals we make in 16B” where pretrial detention hearings are held, Long wrote.

RELATED: Eyes on 16B: Nonprofit tracks St. Louis City’s pretrial detention trends

Jasper County’s treatment courts are receiving just $152,000. This allows alternatives for traditional sentencing for people entering the criminal justice system with substance use disorders and mental illness in the county. Jared Prater, an administrator for the treatment court, did not respond to a call requesting comment.

Other funding impacting law firms, lawyers and clients:

A pay increase for state team members will be funded by $228 million, to be competitive in the state labor market and improve recruitment and retention of staff such as public defenders.

Missouri is allotting $94.9 million for small business investment. According to Amy Berendzen, the public information officer for the state Department of Economic Development, program guidance is under development on which businesses qualify.

The budget sets aside $4 million to create a 24/7 telehealth network for medical providers to access monitoring, consultation services, guidance and technical assistance for survivors of sexual offenses who require forensic exams.

A crime victim alert portal is receiving $1.2 million to streamline communication of changes to an offender’s custody status for law enforcement and victims of violent crime. According to Missouri Department of Public Safety Communications Director Mike O’Connell, anyone can sign up for these notifications.

An economic distress zone fund of $550,000 will provide funding to “deter criminal behavior in areas with high crime rates,” according to the budget. O’Connell said this is a continuation of a program that started last year to serve the cities of Moline Acres, New Madrid, Pagedale, St. Louis and Vinita Park as well as the villages of Hillsdale and Riverview.

According to a 2021 release, grant applicants must be 501(c)3 corporations that can offer services in these communities, which have a homicide rate that’s at least seven times greater than the national average, a poverty rate higher than 20 percent and a school district that has at least 80 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches. The grant can fund personnel and their benefits and overtime, travel, training, equipment, supplies, operations and contracts.

A total of $420,000 in funding has been allotted for four Youth Behavioral Health Liaisons to collaborate with the juvenile justice system, schools and the Department of Social Services Children’s Division.