Letter: Why doesn’t the county have a drug court?

Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The lack of a drug court (aka treatment court) is another example of our commissioners’ failure to hire the right person for the right job. 

From 1994 to 1997, Freeborn County’s current administrator, Tom Jensen, worked for the Department of Corrections in Faribault. Jensen was hired by Freeborn County in 1997 and has been employed by Freeborn County’s taxpaying citizens ever since. He was promoted to Court Services director (now known as Probation and Pre-Trial Services) in 2000. Jensen was charged with managing the department — he was perfectly positioned to implement a drug court — what happened, or what didn’t happen?

A little about drug courts: In 1996, Hennepin County began Minnesota’s first drug court. According to a MinnPost article dated March 5, 2014, titled “Drug Courts in Minnesota: Smart on crime, not soft on crime,” the drug court’s goal, “is to stop felony drug offenders’ revolving door interactions with law enforcement and to give them a foothold in a productive, drug-free life.”  Drug court is a holistic team approach helping repeat offenders while saving tax dollars. “Traditional adversaries in the courtroom now become advocates — all pulling in the same direction.” The cost-effective efforts of drug courts are paying off around the country. The list of counties in Minnesota that have implemented drug courts — or a like hybrid-type court — is extensive and growing.

In 2002, I was working for Dodge County Human Services, the second county in the state of Minnesota to pilot a drug court. It started as a juvenile program, and in 2003 an adult program was added. With support from Third Judicial District Court Judge Lawrence Agerter, Bev Roche, a licensed social worker, applied for and received a hefty grant, and the rest is history. My office was situated just a few short steps away. I remember her passion — she was selfless. She did this because she loved the people she served, and there was a great need — the traditional way of thinking, criminalizing addicts, was not working. She once told me, in order to be successful, the program needed people who were willing to give 150 percent. I remember thinking, “Wow! Maybe Freeborn County will have drug court soon!”  It’s nearly 2019, and 17 years later, still no drug court.

We know drug courts are effective. Based on the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s comprehensive 2012 evaluation, courts have seen significantly reduced recidivism, reduced incarceration and related expenses, and higher family and community reimmersion.

Some drug courts are more effective than others. Having the right people in the right positions is critical. Is this why Freeborn County doesn’t have drug court?  My question for Freeborn County, under Tom Jensen’s watchful eye from 2000 to present, is why has drug court not been a priority in Freeborn County?

Taxpayers, we must continually vote for qualified individuals to serve as our county commissioners who possess the knowledge and ability to enact positive change, that are capable of thinking outside of the box and are capable of hiring the right people for the right jobs. 

Kathy Aase

Albert Lea