By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Drug court celebrates grand opening


Lois E. Johnson

Judge Leslie Beiers speaks at the grand opening of the Carlton County Drug Court March 18.

Life began again for Chris on April 22, 2013, after he took advantage of the opportunity presented to him in drug court in Duluth.

"That's the day that I consider my life started all over again," he told the audience at the Carlton County Drug Court grand opening celebration at the Carlton County Courthouse on Wednesday, March 18.

"I was a mess," Chris added. "There had been a tragedy in the family, and I didn't know how to work through things. I thought that drinking would solve the problem.

"Without a doubt, drug court saved my life, saved my marriage and saved my family. I learned how to be a dad again, and I learned how to live life again."

Drug court started in Carlton County on August 1, 2014, after a long process of building a team and securing funding.

According to a press release from the Minnesota Judicial Branch, Carlton County Drug Court is a specialized, problem-solving court program that targets non-violent criminal offenders who suffer from addiction to alcohol or other drugs. The program is operated through Minnesota's Sixth Judicial District in partnership with the Carlton County Attorney's Office, district public defenders, Arrowhead Regional Corrections, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and regional treatment centers. Carlton County Drug Court is one of 50 drug court programs currently in operation in Minnesota.

"I joined the team last July when I became a judge," said Judge Leslie Beiers at the grand opening. "Drug courts have had great success and are a proven tool but setting up a drug court was no easy task. We had to build a team, get funded and get people trained, among other things. There were many people who were instrumental in getting it going."

Drug court offers an alternative to the traditional methods of punishment: incarceration, deterrents and incentives.

"We know punishment doesn't work," said Jill Eichenwald, the managing attorney of the Northeastern Minnesota Public Defender's Office at the grand opening. "Accountability is important. These people need help and they need support. When they know better, they can do better.

"Drug addictions have a ripple effect. They affect families, relationships with people, ability to work and affect other areas of the victims' lives.

"When they can fix the problem, there is a huge positive ripple effect. Their relationships with their families, children, other people and their jobs improve. There is also a ripple effect of more good things coming into their lives.

"We are very hopeful this drug court will have a positive effect out in the community. "

Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler spoke about the support that is needed from the community for the drug court.

"We need a buy-in for this to work," he said. "Law enforcement has traditionally supported punishment. They had to change and buy in to this program. We are all concerned about public safety. If we are able to help the participants by giving them the assistance they need, the public safety of all the people in Carlton County is being served."

Chris is the voice of experience about how being given a chance in drug court resulted in rewards after he turned his life around.

"It took a year of hard work before my kids could tell me they loved me," he said. "In year two, I rediscovered fishing with my family and kids. Now I love being out on the water with my kids.

"My daughter wakes me up every morning, gives me a hug and tells me she loves me. That's invaluable. She's a daddy's girl now."

Other testimonials presented at the grand opening told similar stories.

Drug courts are not a new concept. Drug courts began 25 years ago, said the Honorable Shaun Floerke, Chief Judge of the Sixth Judicial District.

"Drug courts have shown incredible results for adults with addictions to find healing," he said. "The program is cost effective. It's a human win-win from the victim's perspective. The court brings back vitality and integrity."

Information from the Minnesota Judicial Branch stated, in 2012, the branch released the results of the first comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of Minnesota's drug courts. The groundbreaking study, which compared 535 drug court participants to similar offenders who experienced traditional court processes over two and a half years, found drug courts significantly reduced recidivism (to reoffend and return to court), improved community outcomes, and reduced incarceration (jail sentences) and related costs for drug court participants.

In a recent update, after the participants were four years out of drug court, they continued to show significantly lower recidivism rates and reduced incarceration costs.

The drug court is held every Wednesday afternoon in the Carlton County court, said Judge Beiers.


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