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COURTS: Beltrami County eyes specialty drug court

BEMIDJI—The rising number of drug-related crimes in Beltrami County has prompted a multiagency effort to create a specialty drug court to serve the area's most high-risk individuals.

According to Beltrami County Attorney Annie Claesson-Huseby, the county saw 50 fifth-degree controlled substance cases filed in 2010. By 2015, that number had jumped to 169, prompting concern.

"We have just kind of seen this uptick, and so we wanted to work with our partners to see if we could try and handle these cases differently," Claesson-Huseby said.

Annie Claesson-Huseby

A committee with members from at least 16 different groups, including representatives from the Bemidji Police Department, Beltrami County Sheriff's Office, Leech Lake law enforcement and Red Lake Nation began meeting in April 2015 to start working toward the creation of the drug court.

Trish Hansen, the district supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, is working to secure funding for the court through a $350,000 federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. She expects to know the result of her grant application by September.

Beltrami County already has two specialty courts, one for domestic violence and one for DWIs. Hansen said drug court would operate in a similar manner, providing individuals with support, oversight and training to help get them back on track.

"The focus...is going to be on treatment, getting them intensive treatment services that meet their needs," Hansen said. "It'll be focused on drug testing and sobriety and...employment, job-readiness, vocational skills. Getting them stable housing."

The court would also provide cognitive-behavioral programming and focus on helping parents with chemical-dependency issues get sober.

"The hope would be that we can get parents sober so they can care for their children and we can have a healthy, reunited family," Hansen said.

Not everyone would be eligible for drug court. Claesson-Huseby said the new court would focus on "high-risk, high-need" individuals in hopes of reducing recidivism.

"It really is a program that allows for frequent check-ins with the district court. Whereas if you are placed on probation currently for a fifth-degree controlled substance crime, you would not necessarily have frequent check-ins with the district court," Claesson-Huseby said.

To function, the court would need to employ a full-time probation agent, a part-time coordinator, come up with funds for drug testing and find a judge willing to preside over the court. Many people would participate without receiving additional pay, but Claesson-Huseby said the extra time and effort is worth it.

"We feel dedicated to the cause and believe that specialty courts can make a difference," she said.

Hansen said the committee hopes to open the court Oct. 1.

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

(218) 333-9796
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