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Iron Range Drug Court: Saving Lives for Two Years

Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Operational for two years this month, the Range Drug Court (RDC) in St. Louis County is changing systems and saving lives on the Iron Range.

Since its inception, the RDC has had 26 graduates, with only two graduates being arrested on new charges or probation violations.  The program began with three participants.  Since then, the number of active participants has increased to as many as 37.

Drug court does more than just deal with the punitive nature of a criminal offense.  It looks at and treats contributing factors that may have led to the offense, such as chemical dependency, mental health, and family issues, according to David Swenson, a St. Louis County social worker.

"RDC is a collaboration of agencies coming together to deal with and treat participants in such a way that their lives will be changed for the better," Swenson said.  In addition to him, the RDC partnership consists of a district court judge, an assistant county attorney, a public defender, probation officers, law enforcement, and treatment staff.  Decisions about sanctions, treatment needs, or incentives are made as a team.  Each person on the team has input into the decision.   

To enter the program a person must meet specific criteria, including a diagnosis of chemical dependency, no history of violent crime, and being the subject of charges for a controlled substance crime in the third, fourth, or fifth degree.  Once a candidate has entered a plea of guilty or is found guilty of the controlled substance crime, they can enter the RDC.

Once a person enters the RDC they must complete one year of documented sobriety and complete all three phases of the program:

  • Phase One includes weekly court appearances, completion of chemical dependency treatment, and frequent contacts with probation. 
  • Phase Two includes completion of aftercare, bi-weekly court appearances, cognitive skills classes, and a job search.
  • Phase Three includes monthly court appearances and a requirement to be working, in school, or actively seeking employment. 

All three phases include frequent drug testing, curfews, payment of the drug court fee, and attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.