Prison and drug enforcement officials are optimistic about performance of the Drug Offender Reform Act, whose funding the Legislature approved in the 2005 session.

Representatives from the Department of Corrections, state courts and the Utah Substance Abuse and Anti-violence Coordinating Council spoke on the need for and positive effects of the DORA program before an interim meeting of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee at the State Capitol on Wednesday.

The original DORA program called for the screening, assessment and forced treatment of felony substance-abuse offenders across the state. Legislators were wary of spending the entire $18 million necessary to fund it, so they instead created a three-year pilot study of DORA to be conducted through Salt Lake County's 3rd District Court.

Thus far, 121 felons in the 3rd District have been put into a DORA treatment program. The majority of them have been methamphetamine addicts.

Mary Lou Emerson, director of the substance-abuse council, said that without DORA, it would be extremely difficult to get treatment for felons who committed a crime because of a drug addiction. She said substance abuse is the motivation for the majority of felony offenses.

Through the DORA program, she said, "not only do they have the option (of treatment), there is treatment available immediately."

Emerson said the program has also been helpful because it has increased collaboration between adult probation and parole officials and the substance-abuse treatment community.

Officials from the Utah Department of Corrections said programs like DORA are necessary to make up for the lack of treatment in state prisons for drug offenders.

"We haven't grown our treatment resources with the growing (prison) admissions — we're treatment-starved," said Cliff Butter, director of planning and research for the department.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the DORA bill and is chairman of the legislative committee, said the DORA pilot program will provide useful information when it ends in 2008 and the entire DORA program is reintroduced in the Legislature.

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