Drug court marks its first birthday
WORTHINGTON -- Few courtroom sessions are followed by a celebratory potluck -- even less by a game of get-to-know-you bingo -- but as the Nobles and Rock County Drug Court completed its first year, a little celebrating was in order.
The Nobles and Rock County Cornerstone Drug Court began on Jan. 18, 2012.
The Fifth Judicial District in southwest Minnesota founded the court using $350,000 in federal grant implementation money. Drug courts are used throughout Minnesota and the United States as an alternative method of rehabilitating alcohol and drug addicts.
Offenders who are likely candidates for drug court are those who allegedly neglect their kids, drive drunk and commit crimes because of their addictions to drugs or alcohol. Drug courts closely monitor each defendant's progress through ongoing treatment, frequent drug testing, regular mandatory check-in court appearances and the use of sanctions and incentives to encourage positive behavior change.
Rather than having an "us versus them" feel, drug courts create a network that works toward a goal of rehabilitating addicts until they are drug-free, contributing members of society. The team of public defenders, mental health specialists, correction officers, attorneys, judges and chemical dependency specialists work together -- with open communication -- to help people convicted of substance addictions.
Morgan Woodbury, a probation agent in Nobles and Rock counties, said the communication between team members makes all the difference.
"In my other cases, I never know if they are lying to me. In drug court, I will find out if they are telling someone else a different story," she said.
Woodbury sees greater success with individuals who are in drug court compared to those in traditional corrections programs.
"We have some who have been clean from nine months," she said. "Before that, they hadn't been clean since high school.
Judge Terry Vajgt and other drug court team members encouraged participants Wednesday to continue efforts in changing their lifestyles.
"We believe you have the tools and desire to remain in drug court," he said to one participant. "I want to commend you. You're doing good work," he said to another.
During drug court sessions, participants encourage one another, applauding sobriety and new jobs, and use their experiences to motivate their peers to make better choices.
Christine Mann of Southwestern Mental Health said her first time working with a drug court has been a very positive experience.
"We have a good balance on the team," Mann said. "There are some that want to give them a second chance, and others that are more strict."
Mann credited the accountability within the group, as well as the drug court team members who help keep the participants honest and ensure everyone is on the same page with progress and treatment, as reasons for the court's success.
New Beginnings Treatment Center counselor TD Hostikka said the strength of the program is the communication and the cooperative efforts of the drug court.
"We're not just telling them what do to, we're helping them do it," Hostikka said.
The 18- to 24-month program, which requires participants to meet every other Wednesday in front of a judge, is one of 41 throughout the state. It already has success stories.
"We've seen two start college, two child protection cases closed, one man has been sober for a year after nine years of addiction since high school," said Sherri Smith, drug court guardian ad litem.
As the drug court completes its first year, members are looking forward with hopes of securing additional grant funding to continue the program.
"Drug courts have proven to be successful, and we hope we can continue the program in Nobles and Rock counties," Smith said.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at