Drug court aspires to help addicts succeed in recovery
Judge Leslie Beiers recalled a moment as an assistant county attorney 28 years ago when she arrived at a Cloquet home with law enforcement to serve a search warrant for drugs. After it had been secured, she entered the home to see several adults ...
Judge Leslie Beiers recalled a moment as an assistant county attorney 28 years ago when she arrived at a Cloquet home with law enforcement to serve a search warrant for drugs. After it had been secured, she entered the home to see several adults lying face down in handcuffs and officers with their guns drawn, along with a police K-9.
Amid the chaos, two children sat terrified in a bedroom of the home.
One of those children
grew up to struggle with drug addiction and was prosecuted by Beiers.
Beiers ran into her a few years ago, and the woman said she was doing well. She talked about her children and introduced Beiers to her boyfriend.
“She died two weeks later of a heroin overdose,” Beiers said.
Beiers believes that woman’s life would have been different if Carlton County had a drug court at the time.
“I’m convinced that little girl would have had a better chance at breaking the cycle,” she told a crowd gathered Wednesday afternoon at the Carlton County Courthouse to celebrate the county’s new drug court.
Beiers, a judge in the 6th Judicial District, now presides as lead judge over the new Carlton County Drug Court. The specialized court for people with drug or alcohol addiction began in September and has 15 participants, chosen after a screening process of offenders by the drug-court team. Drug court is a significant intervention, and chosen participants are at a significant risk with a significant need for treatment, she said. Participants complete the program with a graduation.
Jonathan Reznick was nervous when he began the St. Louis County Drug Court, but knew that he no longer wanted the life he led. Although he’d tried treatment programs before, drug court gave him the boost he needed. He met people in drug court who cared about him and wanted him to succeed. He can call them if he has a problem, he said during Wednesday’s event.
“I’m finally able to participate in my life,” he said.
Reznick can now look himself in the mirror and be OK with the person reflecting back, he said, thanking the drug-court program.
“This is what I needed to be the person I always wanted to be,” he concluded.
The Carlton County Drug Court convenes every other Wednesday, but participants must call into the office every day to find out if they’ve been randomly chosen for a drug test that day, and participants must follow an addiction treatment plan, Beiers explained.
During court, the participants talk with Beiers about how they’re doing with the treatment. Participants who are doing well with the program may be rewarded by Beiers as an incentive to continue to do well. If a participant isn’t doing well, they may receive a sanction, such as a day on a work crew or in jail, she said.
Carlton County is one of 50 drug-court programs in the state. A 2012 Minnesota Judicial Branch study compared 535 drug-court participants to similar offenders in the traditional court process, finding that the drug-court participants had reduced recidivism, improved characteristics such as housing and employment, reduced incarceration and reduced court costs. An update on those 535 participants, released earlier this month, found that they continued to have a lower rate of recidivism and reduced incarceration.
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said after the event that they’ve seen the results of other drug courts and hope to have the same positive effect in Carlton County.
“In the end, we want people to break that addiction cycle and be contributing members of the community,” she said.
Drug courts are better for public safety and better for the participants, County Attorney Thom Pertler said. If participants have reduced recidivism, are employed and have a place to live, they’re not committing more crimes or more serious crimes, he said during the event.
More and more of the clients served by the 6th District Public Defender’s Office are in the court system because of addiction and mental illness, and the underlying problem of why they’re in the court system needs to be addressed, said Jill Eichenwald, head of the public defender’s office. Incarceration alone isn’t working because people are still in the system, she added.
“We need the understanding of addiction,” she said.
Fixing the underlying problem will have a ripple effect because the person can then become employed, support their children and have healthy relationships, she said.
“When we treat addiction, when we treat mental illness, we can change the trajectory of people’s lives,” she said.