BEMIDJI — After years of battling drug addiction, Wednesday marked a major milestone for Angela Gale as she became the first graduate of Beltrami County Drug Court.
Participants and leaders of the drug court team and other program supporters gathered in the courtroom of Beltrami County Ninth Judicial District Judge John Melbye on March 23 to celebrate the surrender degrees from Gale from the community program.
The Drug Abuse Court, which began in Beltrami County in February 2020, is a specialty court that was created to allow drug-addicted offenders to receive treatment in a team environment. The program focuses on those who have been charged with a serious felony or misdemeanor involving a controlled substance or other drug-related crimes.
“Today is a great day for Beltrami County, but especially for you, Angela, as we celebrate our first graduate from drug court,” said Trish Hansen, District Supervisor for the Department of Corrections at Minnesota. “I’m sure there were many bumps along the way, just like there were when we wrote this grant, but you hung on, you kept working on the program, and you’re here today.” today.”
Melbye explained that each drug court participant receives a sobriety coin after completing each of the five phases of the program. Hansen presented Gale with his graduation coin, engraved with the words “Change your mind, change your life – Where treatment and justice meet.”
Dan Jones, Gale’s probation officer, took a moment to reflect on the years he spent working with her. He recalled a time when Gale approached him and expressed interest in participating in the drug court program.
“I vividly remember this conversation I had with you right after a relapse during treatment, and you weren’t well placed,” Jones described. “I remember the conversation you and I had in jail when you contacted me to discuss drug court, and I was so glad you did.”
Jones emphasized to other drug court participants in the courtroom that while mistakes are inevitable throughout the program, the most important thing is that they stay engaged in the process.
“What I can say to everyone here is that we don’t expect you to be perfect, and you were by no means perfect throughout drug court,” Jones said. drug court participants. “But here’s the one thing I’m so proud of you for – you didn’t give up on yourself.”
As the member of the drug court team who worked the most with Gale throughout the program, he expressed pride in his hard work.
“I’m beyond proud of you,” Jones told Gale as he presented her with a drug court graduation certificate, “and I’m so glad you’re our first drug court graduate.”
During the program, Hansen took a few minutes to discuss the many years it took for the Beltrami County Drug Court to set up the program and the important role it now plays in the community.
She explained how the process began when court officials saw a need in the community for a different approach to help people with drug offenses who were struggling with substance use disorders, when drug cases in the area were increasing.
“Betrami County in 2010 had 73 drug cases filed that year,” Hansen said. “Just six years later, we had grown to 303.”
Drug courts had sprung up across the state, a specialized court where drug-abusing offenders follow a unique five-phase program that helps them recover using resources, supervision, and incentives. Beltrami County officials saw the benefits a drug court could have on the community.
The county first applied for a drug court grant in the spring of 2017, Hansen said. Efforts were unsuccessful, but officials continued to push for the program, applying for the grant a second time in 2019.
This time, the grant was awarded, and Melbye opened the doors to Beltrami County Drug Court in February 2020. The $500,000 grant is expected to last through September 2023, after which the county hopes to apply for more grants or funding to maintain the program.
For Sue Olson, treatment court coordinator for the Beltrami County Drug Court, the program offers a new recovery strategy for people in the community who have drug-related offenses.
The program, Olson described, is a collaborative effort involving the district court, corrections, law enforcement, as well as other local officials and community resources.
Through drug court, offenders have access to treatment for substance use and mental health disorders, as well as increased supervision and accountability.
The overall goal of the program is to help substance-abusing offenders “to adopt a long-term recovery lifestyle that will promote recovery, responsibility, self-sufficiency, family preservation and public safety,” it said. Olson.
Drug courts fall under treatment courts, which also include DWI courts, veterans treatment courts, mental health courts, etc. In 2007, Beltrami County introduced its DWI court.
Like DWI court, drug court is a voluntary program, so the process begins when an offender decides they think the program might be right for them. Then, Olson said, the offender goes through a screening process.
To ensure the hopeful entrant is eligible for drug court, the county attorney will ensure certain criteria are met – the offender must be a resident of Beltrami County and have a drug-related disorder. substance use. Each participant, Olson explained, is also assessed to ensure they are at high risk for recurrence and high need for treatment.
After being accepted, offenders go through each of the five phases of the program, with certain steps that must be completed before moving on to the next phase.
For offenders, drug court offers several resources and even some benefits.
By participating in drug court, offenders have access to treatment for substance use and mental health disorders, as well as increased supervision and accountability. Being part of the program could also result in a reduced sentence or reduced supervision, as well as other benefits that come with sobriety, such as better mental health and the possibility of finding employment or educational opportunities.
The benefits are many. But it’s not an easy job.
“As (participants) enter the program, they have to go through all the phases and do all the work, go through treatment, be highly supervised, do lots of drug tests and appear in court. “, explained Olson.
For Olson, the most important benefit of drug court is that it helps participants live lives of sobriety and recovery.
“When you look at where (Gale) was at the start of this program to where she is now, it’s leaps and bounds,” Olson said. “She is the one doing the hard work, but there are many of us behind her helping her.”
Gale expressed her gratitude for the drug court program, saying the sense of responsibility helped her stay sober.
“If it wasn’t for this program, and having this support and something to hold me accountable, I don’t know if I could have made it,” Gale said. “That’s why I needed this program so badly.”