Crow Wing County commissioners Tuesday heard compelling firsthand accounts about the county's drug court program.
Drug court involves intensive supervision and treatment. Participants are lower level criminal offenders. A main goal is to keep people from reoffending.
Lori Olson, Merrifield, expects to graduate from drug court in December. Now in her 40s, Olson said she started using cocaine when she was 22 and by the time she was 27 she had lost everything. Without the accountability of drug court, Olson said she never would have been able to stay sober.
"I'm really grateful for this program and the people in it," Olson said. "It's nice to be able to go out in the community and hold my head up again."
"Without the help of drug court, I'd be dead today," said Lee Ann Reynolds, 41, Brainerd. "Now I have a brand new life. I'm just so grateful for drug court. ... I wish this program would have been out there years ago."
Reynolds began using marijuana when she was about 11 and a few years later was using methamphetamine. She is now a Subway shift manager.
Ninth Judicial District Judge Richard Zimmerman, along with David Hermerding, of the public defender's office, Don Ryan, county attorney, and Darrell Paske, court administrator, all spoke in favor of drug court. Paske said he was among the converted after initially not being in favor of drug court.
The update was not a request for funding, but the question of whether drug court was worth its cost did come up. Commissioner Paul Thiede pointed to drug court evaluation report that a year in drug court costs the same as 84 days in jail.
Zimmerman said the program is just beginning here and multiple long studies point to reduced costs compared to incarceration. Simply sending addicts to jail got them off the street but didn't solve the issue, Zimmerman said. Drug court, he said, is not soft on crime. Serving jail time is easier than making the changes demanded by drug court, Zimmerman said.
"You can't put a value on the way it changes the lives of participants and the lives of their families," said Dewey Tautges, board chairman. "You can't put your finger on it and say, hey, this is what it's worth."
Drug court can accept up to 35 people and currently has 26 people in the program. Two people, including Reynolds, have graduated.
In other topics, commissioners received an update on the pay equity compliance study that is due in January. Part of the process is documenting job content and job descriptions. Tamra Laska, human resources director, said they would like to create a consistent pay scale - something the county doesn't have now as each labor contract has its own scale.
"I foresee us having one pay scale where we negotiate the appropriate range for each individual position as we go through contract negotiations but they fit within one consistent pay scale," Laska said.
The study looks at pay scales in a variety of markets, including private and public sectors. Laska said the county wants to have a pay scale on par with the market and not at either extreme end.
Laska said a goal is to implement an internal job evaluation process that is sustainable and objective.
And John Bowen, emergency management director, outlined a few lessons learned from last week's storm. In regard to the recent storm, Bowen said the wind was clocked at 61 mph, according to the National Weather Service. But Bowen said he suspects it was higher looking at damage.
The storm raised the question of how the county would have responded if such a storm blew up during the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, an event that may have 100,000 people present during the day.
Bowen said the county will evaluate evacuation plans for BIR.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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