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Chief Justice Fischer calls for expansion of drug treatment courts in his State of Judiciary address

photo courtesy of Tim Bommel, House Communications

Expanding drug treatment courts, continuing criminal justice reform efforts, technology to benefit Missouri citizens’ access to the courts, efficiencies and re-circuiting were all topics tackled Wednesday morning when Hon. Zel M. Fischer stepped up to the Missouri House dais for his first State of the Judiciary remarks as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri.

During his address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, Fischer focused on a range of judicial issues and gave an optimistic summary of the system.

“I am happy to report Missouri’s judiciary is in good shape,” Fischer said. “We are nationally recognized as leaders.”

Fischer was quick to back up his statement, highlighting that Missouri, which was the first state to adopt a uniform bar exam, is now joined by 29 other jurisdictions. Fischer added technology in Missouri’s court practices have earned international accolades.

“Last summer, the Missouri Judiciary was ranked third–not nationally, but internationally–for the best use of technology to improve court services and access to the public,” Fischer said. “As evidenced by this award, we remain committed to delivering exceptional services and improving public access to our courts. Each of the technology solutions for which we received accolades was designed with Missouri citizens in mind.”

A significant portion of Fischer’s remarks focused on opioid use within Missouri and the role of court programs focused on addressing the issue. Fischer said he wants to work with the legislature to expand this service, which he noted is more cost-effective than any other criminal justice strategy.

“If we are to break the cycle of drugs and crime, every Missourian in need should have a treatment court program within reach,” Fischer said. “We will work with you over the coming months to expand the reach of treatment courts in hopes of making this resource-saving, life-saving program available in every Missouri jurisdiction.”

The chief justice provided an update on the joint effort to seek assistance in improving the state’s criminal justice system through a Justice Reinvestment Task Force. Fischer said the group is working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Pew Charitable Trust to analyze data and develop policy options.

“Through this public-private partnership, we hope to keep corrections spending in check, reinvest those savings in evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism and, ultimately, and most importantly, to enhance public safety for all Missourians,” Fischer said.

Additionally, Fischer discussed current efforts to reevaluate how pretrial jail time is handled across the state. Last June, Fischer noted, the Court established a task force focused broadly on criminal justice. This came as part of a broader national movement away from bail release decisions based on financial conditions and toward considerations of the risks posed by individual defendants.

Fischer also took time to thank judges who have accepted cases from across the state to reduce backlogs through ad hoc assignments. The chief justice closed his speech by noting the creation of a task force that will focus on delivering, as required in 2020, a fiscally responsible plan for realigning Missouri’s judicial circuits to ensure equal access to courts for all Missourians.

Fischer was appointed to the high court in 2008 and has served as chief justice since 2017. A full transcript and video of the 2018 State of the Judiciary is available at courts.mo.gov.

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