In an effort to keep everyone in the county as happy and healthy as possible, the county attorney’s office has proposed something new: a drug court. Despite its name, the court isn’t necessarily for putting addicts on trial. Instead, it’s a rehabilitation program intertwined with the legal system to help stop addicts from not only being addicted, but also to help them stay out of the legal system in the future.
“It’ll be for administering intensive treatment for offenders that have been assessed as high-risk and high-needs,” said David Hunt, county prosecutor and one of the future team members for the drug court. “So means they at a risk to re-offend or to continue the behavior that got them into court, and they need a lot of support and treatment. It’s for the type of person that the system just isn’t working for.”
Treatment and support includes what you’d expect in a professional rehabilitation setting. The court would offer chemical dependency treatment as well as mental health support and even helping the offender find housing and a job.
Part of the idea behind a drug court is keeping an offender healthy and out of the legal system. If it frees up a jail cell and man hours for the police, it saves the county and state time and money invested into someone who repeatedly goes in and out of the system, but Hunt states that this is more of an added benefit. The real benefit comes from the fact that these people suddenly have a support network free of judgement and only seeking for them to become better, essentially.
“We’ve just seen so many offenders that actually want help, and it’s anybody,” Hunt said. “It’s lawyers to doctors to coaches to the guy living in the garbage bag on the street.”
This isn’t without its rules, though. To even become a client for the court, the offender can’t have a violent crime on their record from the past three years according to Hunt. In this is violent crime “in the legal sense”, meaning that at a bare minimum threat with a weapon, even if unused, could bar someone from entering as a client. There’s also an assessment tool, essentially an intense interview according to Hunt, to help figure out clients that would be viable for the program. The hope is to focus more on offenders with felonies on their record, though that doesn’t mean offenders with misdemeanors would be left out, either.
Even as a client, there are protocols and rules to obey. Every week, the client must attend court. If not, there is an immediate arrest warrant put out for them for violating parole, instead of the usual wait Hunt stated can be weeks or even months.
There will also be at least two if not many drug tests per week for clients, and using does come with reprimand but doesn’t mean the client is kicked out of the program. The treatment is simply reassessed to see if there’s a better treatment for the particular client. Different counseling, community service,
and jail time if it’s extreme are all possible reprimands.
The staff isn’t there to punish, though. Instead, the whole purpose is to support clients through the process. The hope is to establish trust and a bond with the client to truly understand them, and that even includes the drug tests. Not using for a specific time provides rewards such as gift cards for groceries, gas, or a restaurant for successful as an incentive to keep up the program to the best of their ability.
“It sounds silly, but it’s really effective way to keep people in treatment as shown in studies,” said Hunt. “All the models we’ve seen and training we’ve done have shown that those incentives work.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that relapses aren’t impossible. In fact, as many as 60 percent of clients are likely to relapse. Hunt put it as the court views addiction as a disease, without stigma. Part of this is also allowing medications as a treatment, such as naltrexone, a medication designed to help manage opioid and alcohol dependence. This doesn’t equate to swapping one drug with another. These are valid treatments for these kinds of issues, and whether or not they are lifetime treatments depends on the clients.
“We’re not gonna be able to help anybody if we never get past that idea that these people are flawed or evil,” said Hunt. “Something has happened to get them to that point, and we’re here to understand it.”
Scott, Dakota, and Wright County have already installed these courts, and have so far seen success. The program for Carver will have five different phases. The first is 60 days, and the goal is to abstain for 10 days. At that point, the person graduates to the next phase where expectations are a little higher, and that repeats.
Carver County has also been receiving help from Scott and Wright County to help organize the procedures and protocols. The county has applied for a grant for federal funding, which would get the program started. Northstar Regional is lending its expertise as well with patient care needs. That includes intensive out-patient care and in-patient if necessary.
And of course, similar to the veterans court, there will be “step down” services. The drug court will continue to provide residential, with the help of Northstar, as well has helping clients find a stable job. Clients are able to live in program’s housing for up to a year sober, which gives them the time they need to do so. The court will also help them stay in sober groups to help them to continue recovery.
“It’ll be hard work for us, it’ll be a challenge,” Hunt said. “The successes will be small things. Getting through a week without using. Getting through 60 days without using will be the big deal. Finding stable housing will be a huge deal. Everything will be little baby steps.”
Hunt stated that the court will hopefully start in January of 2020, but that depends on if they receive the grant which won’t be confirmed until September. If they receive it, the court will start fielding for clients for the drug court to “hit the ground running.” The court could only take roughly take 25 people, so it would still be fairly limited. And even without the grant, Hunt stated they would try to make it happen.
“Carver County is perfect for a drug court,” he said. “We have so many programs to help people with recovery, and everybody knows somebody that’s chemically addicted.