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Drug Court Expands in Minn. to get Addicts into Treatment vs. Prison

Updated: 06/30/2014 10:21 PM
Created: 06/30/2014 8:46 PM KSTP.com
By: Beth McDonough

Most Minnesotans consider going to court as a last resort.

But for others, it's their best option. Especially in front of a court that specializes in treatment instead of punishment. 

The approach has worked so well the state is now spending another $875,000 on so-called drug courts. 

Nolan, who wants to go by his first name only, is in the Hennepin County drug court program.  He said he went from using, to selling, to worse. "Warrants out for my arrest, my license was taken away, got a DUI."

Facing felony charges and a year of hard time in prison, Nolan had a choice to make, "I probably wouldn't come without drug court, it was my last option I had nowhere else to go."

Drug court looks like any other courtroom in Minnesota. The thought is to get troublemakers into a treatment program, go through random and repeated drug testing all under supervision. With new state funding, the program is expanding in Ramsey County and six others.

"Addiction is what's causing negative behavior not just in the criminal justice system but also within their families," according to Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi.

Not everyone gets into drug court, especially violent offenders and not everyone stays in.  About 70 percent of people in Ramsey County drug court graduate and move on with their lives, according to officials. The rest end up in prison. 

A 2012 state report shows drug court reduces recidivism, meaning fewer repeat offenders, which increases public safety.  Plus, the cost to put someone through drug court($3,200) is less than to put someone in prison($3,900).

"That's one of the most important parts of this from a taxpayer perspective, we make this investment but we save a lot of money in the long term," Choi said.

Nolan is relieved Hennepin County authorities wanted to work with him, not against him. "You get a second chance, an opportunity to make it through the program, your life, you can still have a regular life," Nolan said.

Graduates often don't get charged with a crime or get lighter sentences. 

Carlton, Morrison, Rice, Steele and Waseca counties will also get expanded drug courts.

In the end, Minnesota will have 44 drug courts that will eventually serve 56 counties. That's a 47 percent increase in drug court programs statewide.


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