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Judge: Drug court is changing lives

Ten months ago, in November 2007, the Becker-Clay County Drug Court program began as a pilot project.

After getting a $120,000 grant from the State of Minnesota -- the last drug court program in the state to receive such funding -- plus another $30,000 contribution from the two counties, it was off to a running start.

On Tuesday, District Court Judge Lisa Borgen and Drug Court Coordinator Don Kautzmann appeared before the Becker County Board to give an update on the program's progress, and request funding for another year.

"It's very uplifting," said Borgen, adding that it's "my favorite part of the job."

With a first-year goal of 10 participants in Becker Count, a total of 7 individuals have entered the local Drug Court program thus far, Borgen reported.

She discussed the success of the first person who was enrolled in the Becker County program last winter, noting that prior to starting the program, "everybody (in the local law enforcement and court system) knew her -- she had a long history of property crimes, all related to her drug use."

Now in phase 3 of the program (the last phase before "graduation), the woman is holding a steady job, lives in her own apartment -- "it's the first time she's had a place of her own," Borgen said -- and has been clean and sober for almost a year.

"That's really exciting for us to see," Borgen added.

And that's just one of the success stories. Of all the people who have started with the Drug Court program since it began last November, there has not yet been one who has opted not to complete it after the initial six-week mandatory participation period has passed, Borgen said.

"For the first six weeks, they don't have a choice (about whether or not to participate)," Borgen said, noting that individuals are referred to the program by law enforcement and/or the court system.

Each participant is tested for drug and alcohol use twice a week, meets with a probation agent twice a week, and must attend at least two Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week during this initial phase, Borgen noted.

"We want to make absolutely sure they're clean and sober," she explained.

After those first six weeks, each participant is asked whether he or she wants to continue, and "we haven't had anyone say no yet," Borgen added.

All of the participants in Becker County Drug Court meet with Borgen once a week at the courthouse, and the group has become "like a little family -- they give each other rides to the courthouse, help each other out when they can."

Eight weeks into the process, "you'd hardly recognize them" as the same people who entered the program, Borgen said.

Current participants in the program range in age from 19 to almost 50, and are divided pretty equally between men and women, she continued.

Borgen and Kautzmann were at the meeting to request that Becker County contribute the same amount to the program as it did last year -- $10,000. While that may seem like a lot, Borgen noted, the county should be able to recoup that investment pretty quickly, because in addition to shorter jail terms for participants, they are also being rehabilitated.

"They won't be back on the rolls of social services, as they probably would be for the rest of their lives if they didn't change (their behavior)," she explained. "The $10,000 we're asking for...I think you would get that back many times over."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454