Plan to establish drug court in Scott County receives final approval from Minnesota Judicial Council
Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2016
After months of planning by justice system and county officials, a proposal to establish a new drug court program in Scott County has received final approval from the Minnesota Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
“Drug courts are a proven criminal justice tool that reduce recidivism, save costs, and change the lives of those suffering from addiction,” said First Judicial District Judge Christian S. Wilton, who will serve as one of two judges presiding over Scott County’s drug court. “It has taken a tremendous amount of partnership and work in our community to bring this program together, and this approval from the Minnesota Judicial Council is a critical step toward launching this important effort later this fall.”
Plans to establish the Scott County Drug Court were developed in response to a wave of opiate overdoses in the County, which coincided with an 84 percent increase in annual controlled substance convictions in the County from 2011 to 2015. A coalition of local justice system and County leaders came together to develop strategies to combat these alarming trends, with a focus on addressing the role mental health issues and addiction were playing in the rise of drug abuse in the County. County officials looked toward the documented success of established drug courts across the state, and decided to bring that model to Scott County with the aim of combating recidivism and addressing addiction among drug offenders in the County.
Scott County officials hope to open the Drug Court program in October. The goal of the program is to give drug-addicted, non-violent felony offenders the support, structure, and accountability they need to complete treatment for their addiction and avoid future criminal offenses. Ultimately, County leaders hope the program will help reduce overdose deaths and drug crime in the County, while promoting public safety and reducing long-term costs in the criminal justice system.
Drug courts 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 a 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.
The Scott County Drug Court will require offenders to complete five phases over a minimum of 14 months. Throughout the program, all participants will be required to take random drug tests, appear regularly before a judge, and adhere to a nightly curfew. A Drug Court coordinator will ensure that participants are actively participating in required drug treatment and mental health services, while also working with local social service programs to help participants with housing and other critical needs.
County officials have already engaged in significant planning and training in anticipation of opening the new Drug Court program, and coalition members have already developed a policy manual for the program, detailing policies, procedures, eligibility criteria, and admission processes. The judges and staff who will operate the program attended national training in drug court best practices, and the Scott County Board of Commissioners allocated $900,000 over the next three years to implement the program.
“This has truly been a community-wide effort to address the community-wide problem of drug abuse,” said First Judicial District Judge Rex D. Stacey, who will preside over the Scott County Drug Court alongside Judge Wilton. “We have had great cooperation and considerable financial support from the Scott County Board and Scott County Administrator Gary Shelton. We see opiate and heroin addiction as an epidemic, and drug courts as a way to literally save lives and reduce crime.”
Before granting final approval of the program, members of the Minnesota Judicial Council reviewed the implementation plan and policy manual for the new Drug Court program and verified that it will meet state and national best practices and standards. With Judicial Council approval, the Scott County Drug Court will be eligible to apply for ongoing state funding from the Minnesota Drug Court Initiative
While rising opiate abuse was one of the key drivers for development of the program, the Scott County Drug Court will also help combat the serious issues of alcohol and methamphetamine abuse in the County. Alcohol was the primary drug of abuse among 40 percent of County residents admitted for treatment in 2015, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Heroin and other opiates were the drug of abuse in 27 percent of treatment admissions, while methamphetamine was the drug of abuse in 21 percent of treatment admissions.
Drug Courts: A Proven Model
Drug courts are one of the most heavily studied and evaluated criminal justice tools. Many state and national studies have shown the real, positive impact of drug courts: reduced recidivism, lower incarceration costs, and better outcomes for offenders struggling with addiction.
Minnesota has conducted several evaluations of the drug court programs in the state.
Summary of evaluations, with links to the complete reports
About Minnesota’s First Judicial District
The State of Minnesota’s First Judicial District has 36 judges and 250 staff who handle more than 120,000 cases annually in the counties of Carver, Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, McLeod, Scott and Sibley. Its mission is to provide justice through a system that assures equal access for the fair and timely resolution of cases and controversies. For more information please visit www.mncourts.gov