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Six New Drug Courts to Open in Minnesota

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014

New funding from the Legislature spurs program expansion

Utilizing increased funding provided by the Minnesota Legislature in 2013, the Minnesota Judicial Council last week gave final approval to the establishment of six new drug courts across the state.

Drug courts are specialized, problem-solving court programs that target non-violent criminal offenders who suffer from addiction to alcohol or other drugs. The programs involve close collaboration between judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, treatment providers, probation officers, law enforcement, educational and vocational experts, and community leaders. Through this collaboration, drug courts closely monitor the defendant's progress toward sobriety and recovery through ongoing treatment, frequent drug testing, and regular mandatory check-in court appearances. The programs use a range of immediate sanctions and incentives to foster behavior change.

“Drug courts are a proven, cost-effective method for reducing recidivism and improving outcomes for the thousands of non-violent offenders that enter our court system every year struggling with addiction,” said Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke, co-chair of the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s Drug Court Initiative Advisory Committee. “By focusing on treatment and recovery, and by using the power of the justice system to compel compliance, drug courts help break the cycle of chemical abuse and imprisonment that has trapped too many people in our state. This smart-on-crime approach helps keep our communities safe and improves the lives of many people facing addiction.”

Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke
Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke

With this expansion Minnesota will have 44 drug courts that will eventually serve 56 counties, a 47% increase in the number of counties currently served by existing drug court programs. Below is a list of the newly-approved drug courts (county courthouse locations in parentheses):

  • Carlton County Drug Court (Carlton)
  • Eighth Judicial District Drug Court, serving multiple counties in the Eighth Judicial District in western Minnesota.
  • Morrison County Drug Court (Little Falls)
  • Ramsey County Veterans Court (St. Paul), which first opened in December 2013 as a track of the Second Judicial District’s Adult Substance Abuse Court. The District will now establish a stand-alone Veterans Court to focus on high-risk/high-need offenders who are veterans with behavioral, mental, and/or chemical health problems.
  • Rice County Drug Court (Faribault)
  • Steele-Waseca Drug Court, serving Steele (Owatonna) and Waseca (Waseca) counties.

All but one of the court programs listed above are expected to become operational in early July. The Carlton County Drug Court is expected to begin in early August.

A 2012 statewide evaluation (click link to read the full report) that compared over 500 drug court participants to nearly 650 offenders with similar profiles who did not enter a drug court program showed that drug court participants:

  • Had lower recidivism rates over two-and-a-half years – 17% versus 32% reconviction rate;
  • Spent fewer days incarcerated, saving the state on average $3,200 per participant over two-and-a-half years; and
  • Showed gains in employment, educational achievement, home rental or ownership, and payment of child support over the run of the program.

"In addition to increasing public safety by reducing recidivism, drug courts save money and save lives,” said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, co-chair of the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s Drug Court Initiative Advisory Committee. “Minnesota's county attorneys strongly support the expansion of drug courts throughout our state."

This major expansion of drug court programs in the state was made possible by new funding for specialty courts provided by the Legislature in 2013. The Legislature provided $875,000 in new annual funding for these court programs, which will combine with local funding efforts within each community to support the operation of the programs.

“We are extremely grateful to the Legislature for their support and their commitment to the mission of our Drug Court Initiative,” said Minnesota State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba. “Drug courts are powerful tools that help keep our communities safe, reduce long-term costs in our justice system, and provide treatment and support to offenders and their families. We are pleased to be able to expand the use of these programs to many new parts of the state.”