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Changing lives: Drug, DWI and sobriety courts provide opportunity to break the chain

First in a series: Coming this week in the series: How does drug court work? What can it mean for communities and taxpayers? A look at the program from the inside, through participants and court sessions.

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First in a series: Coming this week in the series: How does drug court work? What can it mean for communities and taxpayers? A look at the program from the inside, through participants and court sessions.

First in a series: Coming this week in the series: How does drug court work? What can it mean for communities and taxpayers? A look at the program from the inside, through participants and court sessions.
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Meth was her drug of choice.

The woman stood in front of those gathered in the courtroom facing the judge. She'd been sober for 24 days.

Drugs have been part of her life for the last 17 years. She said during that time there were about four-and-a-half years when she wasn't using. Judge Earl Maus asked her what brought her to the drug court program.

"I opened myself and asked God to help me find the way," she said.

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In the court benches behind her were her peers in various stages of recovery. Some counted their sober days in excess of a year. Two manacled inmates from the Crow Wing County Jail were sitting in the front row. The two women came to see drug court in action. Both said they wanted to be part of the program. When Maus told the 38-year-old inmate she had been accepted into the program, she smiled and raised her handcuffed hands into the air.

Drug, DWI and sobriety courts are designed to break the cycle of repeat offenders. Non-violent drug users have to volunteer for the program and a team of people - judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, probation officers and treatment counselors - oversee their cases. The program is designed to provide intense supervision and random drug testing with a strong emphasis on accountability.

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Seeking support

  • Friday, a silent auction, dinner and dance with live music will raise funds to support Aitkin County Sobriety Court and Crow Wing County DWI and Drug courts.
  • The event begins with the silent auction at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m. and dance at 7:30 p.m. at The Woods (formerly Timbermist) at 19624 County Road 3, north of Brainerd.
  • Performances are by Tim Mahoney and Junk FM - Dance.
  • Cost is $50 per ticket.
  • The event is sponsored by Brainerd Community Action on behalf of the sobriety, drug and DWI courts.
  • Tickets are available through Tuesday at Aitkin County Chamber of Commerce or Brainerd and Baxter Cub Food stores. Tickets will not be available at the door.
  • For more information about drug and sobriety courts go to http://crowwing.us/index.aspx?NID=68 or http://www.mncourts.gov/?page=494 .

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The National Institute of Justice reports, as of last year, there were more than 2,800 drug courts in the U.S.

Jill McKenzie, coordinator for the Aitkin County Sobriety Court and Crow Wing County drug and DWI courts, said the courts save taxpayer dollars. McKenzie pointed to research showing $10 to $27 dollars is saved for each $1 spent on drug courts. By breaking a cycle of repeat offenders, Crow Wing County points to savings in jail and court costs and a reduction in crime. Drug courts work to provide program participants with treatment, using both sanctions and incentives along with the random drug tests. As of 2012, about 120,000 Americans participated in drug courts nationally as a way to break their addictions and prevent repeat offenses.

Judge Maus, a former prosecutor and Cass County attorney, said he was hesitant when introduced to the concept of the wellness court in Cass County until he saw the statistics of success.

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A Department of Justice study found 84 percent of drug court graduates nationally - in the first year after their graduation from the program - were not re-arrested or charged with a serious crime. Two years out, the national numbers show 72.5 percent continued to have no arrests. Maus said the benefits are there not only in reducing costs but through increased public safety. The program doesn't help everyone and not all applicants are accepted, but Maus said it's proven to be effective and has ripple effects beyond the individual. The effect, Maus said, not only helps the individuals but makes a tangible difference for their children.

"So you are helping the next generation as well, not just this one," Maus said. "I like the fact a high percentage of people are helped. It's effective for them and most of them have better lives for it. It's rewarding knowing you had an opportunity to change their lives for the better."

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

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Drug, DWI and sobriety courts are designed to break the cycle of repeat offenders. Non-violent drug users have to volunteer for the program and a team of people - judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, probation officers and treatment counselors - oversee their cases. The program is designed to provide intense supervision and random drug testing with a strong emphasis on accountability.

Related Topics: CRIME
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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