Rochester, Minn. – Drug Courts are specialty courts where the judiciary, prosecution, defense, law enforcement, and mental health communities all work together to help offenders who are battling addictions to drugs and alcohol. Instead of sending them to prison, the Drug Court aims to help them beat their addictions and give them a chance to change their lives.
Olmsted County’s Drug Court (OCDC) began taking applications last spring and officially started on June 3rd 2016. On Friday, an open house was held to give the public a chance to see how it works.
“It’s kind of like our last chance,” says one of the Drug Court Participants, Evan Sobek.
Sobek used marijuana and received four DWIs in less than ten years, before entering the OCDC system. He knows that he’s been given an incredible opportunity.
“For people that aren’t violent, like myself or haven’t done any bad crimes to not just sit in prison and take up a room from somebody who really should be there,” he adds. Sobek has been appearing in Drug Court every Friday.
On this day however, it was standing room only in courtroom 5. The public and press watched as Sobek and the other Drug Court participants took turns standing before Judge Kathy Wallace. While we were able to observe, no cameras were allowed when court was in session.
Afterwards, some of the people who worked for years to make OCDC possible said a few words, including Mark Ostrem who put his practice on the line more than 10 years ago to become the County Attorney and bring a Drug Court to the area.
“It’s really gratifying to look at the participants and see people who really have something good inside of them, but they’ve really made a mess of things up to this point,” he explains. “They want to change, we want them to change so it really feels good to stand up there and know that we’ve got this chance.”
He says the OCDC model is made up of five phases. The first two are intense and focus on getting the participants sober and into treatment. Sobek tells us that as a participant he has a curfew, is required to attend different meetings, like AA and is encouraged to hold a steady job.
“Drug Court is hard, and we all want you to be successful. I want you to be successful,” Ostrem said as he addressed the participants.
“As I told them, they’ve kind of been a pain to us,” Ostrem adds. “They’ve been a pain to the community, but we’re willing to give them one more chance. We’re willing to give them that last chance to make a change but it’s only one chance. If they can’t do it, if it’s too hard, I’ll be happy to send them off to prison.”
“It’s not easy that’s for sure, they hold you accountable,” says Sobek. “They just really make you want to do good for yourself.”
As the community celebrated the new Drug Court at the open house, Sobek himself reached a milestone; as of Friday he’s now in the second phase of the program.
“I just want to make everybody proud of me, I’m working really hard; working full-time now and doing what I enjoy.”