Olmsted County receives $350K federal grant to expand drug court program
Olmsted County has accepted a $350,000 grant from the federal government to expand its newly-formed drug court program.
The county board approved the grant, plus a required 25 percent match from the county, at a meeting on Tuesday. The additional funding will allow the program to add personnel and services during the three-year grant period.
The drug court launched in July and now has six participants. With the grant money, the program is expected to grow its capacity to ten individuals by the end of December. That number could increase to 35 in the next three years.
"It's quite an accomplishment," Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem told KROC-AM prior to the board's vote. "This will go a long ways toward helping the drug court start to grow and get us some of those other pieces that we really need to have to continue moving forward."
Nationally, drug courts are hailed as an antidote to mass incarceration spurred by the War on Drugs. The premise of these special courts is compliance, not conviction. Nonviolent drug offenders are offered the chance to submit to rehab, regular drug court appearances and frequent drug tests in leu of a prison sentence. Failure to adhere to program requirements results in sanctions, including brief periods of incarceration.
The programs involve close collaboration between judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, treatment providers, probation officers, law enforcement, educational and vocational experts, and community leaders.
Participants go through a five-phase program that lasts 18 months, and receive individualized treatment and case plans, trauma screening, and mental health and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Minnesota’s first drug court was established in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) in 1996 and counties across the state soon followed suit. There are currently 54 operational drug courts in Minnesota.
“Decades of research on drug courts have all come to the same conclusion – drug courts work,” said Third Judicial District Judge Kathy Wallace, who presides over the program alongside Judge Christina Stevens.
“These are proven criminal justice tools that reduce recidivism, save significant amounts of taxpayer money by keeping offenders sober and out of incarceration, and change lives for the better."
A 2012 statewide evaluation comparing more than 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.
- Spent fewer days incarcerated, saving the state on average $3,200 per participant over two-and-a-half years.
- Showed gains in employment, educational achievement, home rental or ownership, and payment of child support over the run of the program.
The Olmsted County Board will continue to study whether additional resources are needed to grow the program. In a 2015 interview with Med City Beat, Sheriff Kevin Torgerson spoke at length about the benefits of drug courts.
Claire Walling contributed to this report.
(Cover graphic: File / CC)