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Multi-county drug court approved

WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota Judicial Council unanimously approved the implementation of the Cottonwood-Murray-Nobles-Pipestone-Rock Drug Court (CMNPR) Thursday, with a targeted capacity of 20 adults.

The five counties are the only ones in the 15-county Fifth Judicial District not already served by a drug court.

According to a request drafted in October, a tentative implementation date is set for January 2012. Team staffings and Drug Court will take place every other week in Nobles County until there are enough participants in Rock County to alternate between the two. That is expected to take place in October 2012, according to the implementation request.

Interactive television (ITV) will be used to minimize travel for team members from Rock County. The drug court will expand into the other three counties -- Pipestone, Murray and Cottonwood -- after their county boards have been met with and locations are determined.

A $350,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance will fund the drug court for three years. After the end of the first year, according to BJA grant requirements, a sustainability plan must be developed and submitted.

A needs assessment found a total combined population of slightly less than 59,000 between the five counties, covering an area of more than 3,000 square miles. The top three "drugs of choice" are alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine. The most prevalent mental health disorders are depression, anxiety, ADHD and bipolar disorder. Nobles County has the highest Hispanic population, at 19.4 percent, compared to the statewide average of 4.3 percent, the assessment shows, but the closest culturally specific program for the Hispanic population is located in Albert Lea.

Sixteen individuals representing all five counties completed the National Drug Court Planning Initiative training in May, including semi-retired Judge Timothy Connell, who will work with the court until his seat on the bench is replaced and it is appropriate to make a change, he said last month.

Some people dealing with addictions don't have criminal intent when sobriety can be maintained, he believes, and he hopes a drug court will bear that out.

Judge Jeffrey Flynn urged Nobles County commissioners to give the drug court concept a try during a meeting in early October.

He said he has seen hundreds of people in his court because they are addicted to meth.

From July 2007 through November 2011, data was being collected for a statewide drug court evaluation.

Information about comparison groups, participant community functioning outcomes and recidivism will be analyzed, along with cost effectiveness.

The final report is due in the spring of 2012.

Drug courts utilize 10 key components, such as integrating alcohol and other drug treatment services with the justice system case processing.

Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants' due process rights.

Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the drug court program, which provides a continuum of alcohol and drug-related treatment and rehabilitation services.

Abstinence is monitored by frequent testing, and a coordinated strategy governs drug court responses to participants' compliance.

Forging partnerships among drug courts, public agencies and community-based organizations can generate local support and enhance drug court effectiveness.

There are a number of roles that need to be filled in an adult drug court, from the judge to the coordinator to the treatment representative.

The judge presides over the court proceedings and monitors appropriate application of disciplines and incentives while maintaining the integrity of the court.

The judge regularly reviews the case status reports detailing compliance with treatment and drug test results, among other things.

As a result of frequent interaction during court appearances, participants can develop a rapport with the judge.

The judge speaks directly to them, asking about their progress and urging them to try, applauding their accomplishments while reminding them of their obligation to remain drug free.

The prosecutors will review potential participants for eligibility and defense counsel will advocate for the participant during staffing and court proceedings.

Both will be done in a non-adversarial manner, sharing a common goal of successful treatment completion.