One county asks why others aren't involved with drug court
MONTEVIDEO -- Chippewa County will see its first graduate of the Eighth Judicial District's specialized drug court next week, two-and-a-half years after the new court was launched.
MONTEVIDEO - Chippewa County will see its first graduate of the Eighth Judicial District's specialized drug court next week, two-and-a-half years after the new court was launched.
It's left the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners with one question: Why aren't all of the counties in the district participating in it, they asked.
"What a difference it makes,'' said Jim Dahlvang, chairman of the Chippewa County Board, at the Jan. 3 meeting when the board heard a presentation on the drug court. He was speaking specifically of the success story represented by the county's first drug court "graduate.''
At his graduation coming up Tuesday, the 41-year old man will have achieved 780 days of sobriety, the longest stretch in his adult life, program supervisor Karon White told the commissioners. He has maintained full-time employment and has been reunited with his children. "He's just made tremendous strides,'' White said.
She intends to show the efficacy of the specialized drug court to counties across the 13-county judicial district as the new court starts to show the results of its labor. Participants in the program commit to a stepped process of 18 to 24 months that is focused first of all on recovery from addiction. As a result, it's now seeing its first graduates. Swift County recorded its first graduate last week, making her among the first of four since the program's launch. White will be attending six more graduations in as many upcoming weeks.
Nationwide, statistics show that 75 percent of successful graduates of drug courts will never see handcuffs again, White said.
Those referred to the program are usually individuals with high recidivism rates linked to their chemical dependency. County attorneys in the participating counties are the main gatekeepers. The intent is to keep drug dealers out, and users in, she explained.
Eight of the 13 counties in the Eighth Judicial District are participating. There were 548 individuals in those counties who were charged with felony offenses that would have made them eligible for the program since its start. The counties referred 41 of them to the drug court.
There are currently 30 active participants. Some of the referred individuals opted out, in some cases preferring to go to prison rather than go straight. For some, White said, "it's harder to live in the community and be sober.''
Others were terminated for not abiding by its requirements.
As to why some counties are not participating, White said she has been told by some of the counties at the onset that they were concerned about the potential for picking up program costs in the long term. Currently, counties are not charged for participating.
She hopes to keep it that way, but pointed out that the drug court requires an additional commitment of time and resources from all of the participants, including judges, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and corrections and social service staff. She is seeking grant funds to spare counties the possibility of taking on the added costs the drug court represents.
White said it also requires buy-in from all of the stakeholders in a county, and not everyone endorses its concept. Some perceive it as soft on crime, she said.
White said she is hopeful that the stories of the first graduates will show its worth in the lives of real people and their families. The first 10 graduates have maintained sobriety and stayed out of trouble with the law for the longest stretches in their adult lives, and appear to be on track to keep it that way, she said.
She is also hoping that the University of Minnesota, Morris, will take on the task of analyzing the value of the program from an economic standpoint. She is confident that it will show that keeping people out of trouble - and out of the court system and prisons - saves taxpayers far more than the program costs.
Dave Lieser, a member of the Chippewa County Board, said he has been impressed by the program's success as the board's representative to the 6W Community Corrections program. "You just have to do things that work,'' he said.