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Yellow Medicine County, Chippewa County and Lac qui Parle County are in the process of establishing a drug court which should be operational sometime within the coming months.
As drug-related and alcohol-related arrests continue to be a problem, the state legislature has been awarding grants for the establishment of the courts statewide.
The three counties, which form the jointly administered Tri-County Court, applied for and received funding to help establish the system.
“In the last legislative session funding was included to maintain existing drug courts and to expand them across the state” said 8th Circuit Judicial Judge Thomas Van Hon.
The courts are meant to be an alternative way to handle those non-violent offenders who find themselves in the criminal justice system based on addiction.
At the legislative level, multi-county courts were given priority towards funding.
In October, the counties received notice that the grant was accepted and funding will be provided for the drug-court — the first for Chippewa County.
Drug court is an alternative approach for dealing with alcohol and other drug-addicted offenders in the judicial system where defendants are closely monitored by a group of traditional court participants — judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, treatment providers, probation officers, law enforcement, educational and vocational experts and community leaders — who help them toward sobriety and recovery through ongoing treatment, frequent drug testing and regular mandatory check-in court appearances, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
“It takes a long time and a lot of work by the offender,” said Van Hon. “It’s a lot of effort both by the participant and the people who are there to support the offender.”
Those eligible for the process are expected to be primarily first-time offenders of property crimes where there is some indication of chemical dependency being a factor.
No one can be compelled to participate, but should offenders choose to participate, they will be ordered by the court to meet certain criteria.
“We don’t know exactly what it will look like but the legislature wanted to ensure equal access to everybody and give offenders in rural Minnesota the same access that offenders in the Twin Cities receive,” said Van Hon.
The best drug-court programs in the state hold about a 60 percent success rate, that if achieved by the three counties, could cut costs with incarceration and out-of-home placements.
The counties’ planning group has been getting together, which includes district court judges, county attorneys, public defenders offices, private defense counsel, probation representatives, treatment providers, mental-health professionals, non-profit representatives and law enforcement.
The grant will fund a year-long program, but the counties hope is that the drug court can continue afterward based on data of saving the state and counties money.
The first half of Minnesota counties are implementing drug courts in the state, but the criminal justice officials believe the Legislature will require that every citizen have access to participate in a drug court at some point.
Blue Earth County, which has had a drug court more than five years, has been a model for drug courts in Minnesota. Nearby, Redwood County and Lyon County, in the neighboring 5th Judicial District, have also begun to operate drug courts.