News Item
Itasca County Wellness Court earns Local Government Innovation Award

Posted: Monday, December 4, 2017

The Itasca County Wellness Court – a joint effort of Itasca County, Minnesota’s Ninth Judicial District, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to reduce drug crime and abuse – has been named one of the most innovative local government projects in the state.
The Itasca County Wellness Court is one of 25 programs recognized by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota as recipients of its 11th annual Local Government Innovation Awards. All 25 awardees will be formally recognized at an awards ceremony and reception on Thursday, December 7, at 5 p.m. at the Humphrey School in Minneapolis.
The Itasca County Wellness Court is a multi-jurisdictional court that targets chronic alcohol and drug offenders. The Court combines treatment, sobriety testing, and court-monitoring to break the cycle of addiction for offenders. Law enforcement, probation, treatment professionals, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and court officials provide a team approach of guidance and direction to assist individuals in overcoming their addiction and becoming law-abiding citizens. The goals of the Itasca County Wellness Court are to reduce costs associated with chemical use and criminal behavior, reduce criminal behavior and recidivism, enhance public safety, and enhance the well-being of participants. 
Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Korey Wahwassuck and Leech Lake Tribal Court Judge Megan Treuer preside jointly over Wellness Court hearings. The Itasca County Wellness Court has served as a model for other states and court systems implementing joint-jurisdiction courts around the country.
“This award is a great honor for our community, and reflects the strong partnership we have formed between Itasca County and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe,” said Judge Wahwassuck. “Presiding over the Itasca County Wellness Court, I have had the great opportunity to see this program help those struggling with addiction transform their lives and become productive members of our community. Not only is this program resulting in better outcomes in our criminal justice system, it helping to make our community safer and reducing costs for taxpayers.”
The Humphrey School recognized the Itasca County Wellness Court under its “Native Nations” award category. The Itasca County Wellness Court was chosen out of more than 100 projects that applied for the Local Government Innovation Awards. Judge Wahwassuck and Judge Treuer will accept the award on behalf of the program at the December 7 ceremony.
More information about the Itasca County Wellness Court
The Itasca County Wellness Court was established in 2007, and serves both tribal members and non-Indians residing in Itasca County and the Leech Lake Reservation. The Court has also been the recipient of the Harvard Honoring Nations Award (Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University), the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Cultural Proficiency Courage Award, the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award, the Minnesota Corrections Association President’s Award, and the Association of Minnesota Counties Achievement Award. The Court was also nominated for a United Nations Public Service Award. 
The program targets adults who have been charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, or a gross misdemeanor or felony DWI, and who are non-violent and chemically-dependent. The program lasts a minimum of 18 months, and the goal is to have participants leave the program sober, law-abiding, employed, and with stable housing.
The program has undergone extensive study and evaluation to ensure its effectiveness. A 2017 evaluation found:
  • Graduates exit the program with an average of 724 days of sobriety.
  • At exit, 85 percent or more of graduating clients had stable housing, were either employed or attending school full-time, and had a valid driver’s license.
  • Program participants report great satisfaction with the program, saying they feel staff authentically care about them; believe they can succeed; and are focused on helping them become successful, rather than on their past mistakes.
The 2017 evaluation estimated that the program provides a return of at least $1.58 for every dollar the community invests in it.