By Alison Vekshin
Stephens Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The House on Wednesday approved a provision aimed at strengthening the powers of local drug courts.
The court provision was included in the extension of the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law which passed the House 251-174.
The drug court language came from a bill Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark., introduced in September. It directs the U.S. attorney general to establish standard guidelines for drug testing and require penalties or therapy if an offender fails a test.
"It is going to be an important, effective tool in fighting the war on drugs," Boozman said.
It also requires offenders to be tested for every controlled substance they have been known to abuse and includes $70 million in drug court grants.
Drug courts are eligible for federal aid through the Justice Department's Drug Courts Grant Program.
"We are trying to make sure there is consistency in the programs around the country," Boozman said.
Drug courts provide an alternative to incarceration for those convicted on alcohol- or drug-related charges, or crimes committed under the influence of a controlled substance.
Participants are required to undergo drug screenings, be employed or enrolled in school and take part in a 12-step program or other self-help group.
Boozman said Circuit Court Judge Mary Ann Gunn helped craft the court language. She runs the Washington and Madison County Drug Court and holds court at local schools several times per month to deter students from using drugs.
Gunn applauded the approval of the drug court language, saying that thorough, random drug testing is an integral part of the program and informs the court of the offender's drug of choice.
"Drug court demands a lifestyle change, structure and integrity," Gunn said.