A Different Day in Court

Drug Court System Black Hawk County, IA

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KIMT NEWS 3 – For Teresa West, court dates like these are ones she almost looks forward to.

“Oh it’s been very hard, very intense, but it’s been very helpful and it’s changed me in a lot of ways. Things I hadn’t had I have now,” said Teresa.

Teresa is participating in the Black Hawk County Drug Court System, and she tells us it was some bad drug habits that led her here.

“I had a chance to change my life. Instead of going to change my life in prison and maybe coming out the same way, I had a chance to get treatment for my substance abuse,” said Teresa.

And she’s not alone.

More than a 120 clients have been through the Drug Court System in Black Hawk County.

The program is more of a counseling session than your typical day in court.

It’s a team effort between several departments, ranging from the County Attorney’s Office to Substance Abuse Services.

The goal is to get the offenders back on track with their lives by getting them clean, back to work and reunited with their loved ones they may have lost through their addiction.

It all happens within the 18 month program, and while they are on strict probation, they don’t serve any jail time.

But now their worlds are turning up-side down.

The county’s Drug Court System is being shut down after more than eight years, due to a lack of funding.

Now as the system is ending, you could tell it’s becoming quite emotional

“We won’t have a structure that we had a things and I mean you really have to be strong to go back out there because that addiction is so tough, its kind of hard not having a support your back,” said Teresa.

And they’re not the only ones nervous for the program’s end.

Defense Attorney Dean Olson has been there since day one back in 2005.

“Human value is to me the most important, even if you’re a fiscal conservative spending this money is a tremendous investment in society,” said Olson.

And there are numbers out there to back him.

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals by 2010, 75% of Drug Court graduates will not be arrested for at least two years after the program.

There’s also a reduction in crime compared to other sentencing options.

But they also save money.

For every $1.00 invested, taxpayers save as much as $3.36.

While a client in the Drug Court System can produce cost savings from $3,000 to $13,000.

“I was a Criminal Defense Attorney for the better part of 30 years and while it was a lot of times rewarding, this still is the best thing I ever did because I get an opportunity to help a lot of people,” said Olson.

He says the news is devastating to everyone involved.

Olson says even though many join the program for the wrong reasons, they learn over time that it’s one of the best tools to get their lives back together.

“Initially to avoid prison, but a fair number of them if not a majority, somewhere along the line it dawns on them I can do this. I can help myself, I can live my life the way my mom always wanted me to,” said Olson.

But where one door closes, another opens.

In Southern Minnesota, Olmsted County is working to bring a Drug Court into the area.

State Representative Kim Norton is a big advocate for the idea, and is working to secure the funding to make it happen.

“We have a very diverse and growing community a certainly drug and alcohol issues are prevalent as they are in other cities and particular larger cities and I think that is certainly one type of specialty court we are looking at,” said Norton.

But she says this legislative session didn’t work in her favor, the designated funding for the bill was turned down.

“My hope is that Olmsted County will apply for some of that specialty court money for a Drug Court in these coming months and perhaps in the next year get one started,” said Norton.

And she’s not alone in hoping the money will come through for the program some day.

Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem is also pushing to see his county get the help they need through the Drug Court System.

“Our drug culture has changed a little bit and the impact it’s had on the system has changed in the last six years. We’re seeing a lot of child protection issues coming through the court system, now the underline issue is drug dependency,” said Ostrem.

Ostrem has attended many different Drug Court Systems and has seen first hand how this is life changing for people.

But he says he also understands why the money may not be flowing in.

”A specialty court is hard to get our head wrapped around. It’s hard to understand why we should apply a significant amount of services and supervision to somebody when it would be just as easy to sent them to prison,” said Ostrem.

But for Teresa, it’s very simple.

The Drug Court Program works.

“I haven’t had a job in maybe five or six years, and I was able to get a job, get promotions through my job. Just a lot of things I hadn’t had. I’m able to be around my children now, being a loving mother, a good sister, and supportive daughter and things to my family,” said Teresa.

The Black Hawk County Drug Court System ended June 26th.

Those in the system will still be on probation, but won’t be forced to go to rehab.

But many said they were still going to go, on their own time.

Meanwhile, on the last day of court, those in the program also received a gold coin from the Attorney, Substance Abuse Counselor, the Judge, and Probation Officer, to remind them that they have the ability to change their lives around.

As of right now there are 37 Drug Court Systems in Minnesota.

And in Iowa, there were nine, but three have been cut just this year.

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