Minnesota County Mulls Drug Court

WINONA, Minn. — Despite years of bickering over whether drug court is worth the extra money, Winona County officials have decided to pursue funding for the alternative sentencing program.


Drug courts allow drug addicts and alcoholics convicted of a crime to enter rehabilitation programs. Supporters say that by providing treatment to offenders, the courts reduce crime and recidivism. Opponents counter, however, that they duplicate services and are too expensive.


County Commissioner Marcia Ward agreed with the court’s supporters, asserting that it could assist addicts who have broken the law.


The rehabilitation offered in drug court involves regular check-ups that usually run longer than a year, according to Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman.


Although neighboring counties, such as Wabasha, have implemented drug courts in recent years, Winona officials have only debated the idea. In 2008, former Winona County Attorney Chuck MacLean went on record saying that he did not believe drug courts exert a positive impact on crime rates.


But after the Board of Commissioners voiced stronger support for the court following last fall’s election, in which Sonneman – a strong proponent of drug courts – was elected, the debate largely tilted in favor of them.


Sonneman says the traditional sentencing system is no longer working and an alternative is necessary.


The board recently approved a measure that will allow Sonneman’s office to apply with neighboring Olmsted County for federal grants to create a multi-county drug court.


The counties would receive $360,000 over a three-year period. In turn, Winona County would need to match 25 percent of the grant, or $90,000.


Despite the collaboration, the counties would not necessarily have to create a central drug court. Each court could serve its own county and could be run by existing staff, while sharing some services.


Olmsted County officials unsuccessfully applied for a drug court grant in 2009 but Sonneman said a joint application may increase the chances for approval this time around.


If the two counties do receive the grant, the county boards would then need to approve the drug court before moving ahead with the program.


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