Social Services seeks grant funding for drug court

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

 

Drug court, one of a number of specialty courts operating in Minnesota, was authorized in Morrison County in 2008. The initiative died due to lack of funding, but is now being revived.

Drug court is a special court with the responsibility to handle cases involving substance-abusing offenders through close supervision, drug testing, treatment and immediate consequences. The average length of a drug court program is 18 months.

“At this point, we don’t have full knowledge of the costs, but it will likely involve mostly staff time,” said Social Services Supervisor Paul Bukovich. “The grant includes full funding for two years.”

Information made available by Social Services describes the program as being designed to prevent crime by treating the underlying substance addiction issue(s) associated with criminal activity. Treatment providers keep the court informed about a participant’s progress so that sanctions and incentives can be consistently and immediately implemented by the court.

Compliance with the program is within the participant’s control and is based on measurable goals. Participants are treated firmly, but fairly and consistently, with dignity and respect.

Participants who do not successfully complete all three phases of the drug court program face traditional sanctions with possible sentencing options in district court.

“People starting drug court come in weekly,” said Judge Conrad Freeberg. “They see the same person each time.”

Freeberg described a possible scenario of a client visit, with immediate reinforcement, whether positive or negative.

“If the person screwed up that week, he or she might be sent to jail for two days,” he said.

“Study after study has shown that specialty courts have a high degree of success for these chronic, chemically-dependent individuals,” said Social Services Director Brad Vold.

Social Services employees have been trained to facilitate drug court since 2008.

“There is actually still a ‘drug court’ line in our budget that was never removed,” Vold said.

There are monetary benefits for the county for treating an offender through this program rather than through jail time.

“For every $1 invested in the program for an offender, $2.21 will be returned to the county,” said Nicole Kern, associate director of Central Minnesota Community Corrections for Morrison County. “For a high-risk offender, the return is $3.36.”

Crow Wing and Aitkin counties have established drug courts with verifiable results, Kern said.

“People are more likely to remain sober as a result of drug court,” said Vold.

Sheriff Michel Wetzel said he is philosophically opposed to drug court.

“I feel people are better served by going to prison for 86 months right off the bat,” he said. “But we will be a supportive partner.”

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