Drug court aims at root of crimes

Dodge County program will focus on treatment

By Janice Gregorson

KASSON -- A drug-court program targeting at-risk juveniles will be launched in Dodge County this summer, becoming the first in southeastern Minnesota and only the fourth in the state.

Dodge also will be the first rural county in Minnesota to develop a drug-court program that focuses on treatment and rehabilitation, something state officials say they will watch with interest.


About 70 people representing criminal justice and treatment systems from the region attended a workshop in Kasson on Wednesday to learn more about the Dodge County program and drug courts in general.

The drug court movement nationally got its start in Miami in 1989. Judges there recognized that a large majority of people were in prison because of problems stemming from drug addiction. That led to the development of treatment-based drug courts.

Today, there are 697 drug courts in operation throughout the United States. Of those, 167 are for juveniles. Minnesota has three: One for adults in Hennepin County, one for adults and juveniles in Ramsey County, and one for adults in St. Louis County.

Veteran Dodge District Judge Lawrence Agerter said he doesn't see anywhere near the number of drug offenders seen by judges in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but he said the need is still critical.

"We find a lot of our criminal court is taken up with drug and alcohol offenses," he said. "And we have a fair amount of juveniles who get into drugs and alcohol earlier and earlier. If we can find a way of getting these people off drugs and alcohol and getting back to doing the things they should be doing in life, society will be better off."

Agerter was on the bench in 1982 when there were only 82 new felony cases opened in adult court in Dodge County and only 101 juvenile cases filed. Last year, there were 174 new adult felony cases and 286 juvenile cases.

He isn't surprised at national statistics that show nearly 5 percent of the population is dependent on either alcohol or illicit drugs and that the criminal justice system is driven by drug and alcohol abuse. He didn't blink, either, at statistics that across the county, two-thirds of adults arrested and more than half of juveniles arrested test positive for at least one illegal drug.

James Gilbert, associate justice with the Minnesota Supreme Court, said that statewide, 60 percent to 70 percent of all felony crimes involve drug use.


Drug courts, he said, are a priority of the judicial system in Minnesota.

"I believe we are running out of time and money," Gilbert said. "Unless we deal with these troubling issues, it will get worse."

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