Drug Court: A New Option for Young Addicts

Andrew is 24 and has already been in prison.
In 2012, Andrew was arrested for delivering marijuana, a felony in North Dakota. After spending several days in a county jail, a few months in the state penitentiary in Bismarck, and five months in a half-way house, he's staying clean – he's determined not to go back. "I'm still on parole," Andrew said. "If I mess up now, I have to start my whole sentence over. If I just keep my nose clean, and I don't have to worry about going back."
Andrew, who lives and works in Valley City, was lucky. Due to overcrowding, he was released early from prison and sent to a half-way house. But living in a half-way house was no picnic either. He was monitored 24/7 and couldn't leave, except to go to work without a chaperone.
Andrew began smoking marijuana in ninth grade. In tenth grade he dropped out of school. In his lifetime, he's also done cocaine, ecstasy, and synthetic marijuana.
He was arrested when he attempted to sell marijuana to a person who was wearing a wire for law enforcement.
Andrew isn't the only high school student to start smoking marijuana at an early age; according to a booklet recently distributed to district parents by the Valley City Public Schools, one in six high school students, almost 15 percent, report smoking marijuana in the last thirty days. According to Kristi Wieland, Stutsman-Barnes Juvenile Drug Court Coordinator, marijuana, prescription drugs (i.e. pain killers), and inhalants are the drugs of choice for area youth with methamphetamine becoming more popular.
Andrew doesn't believe marijuana is a gateway drug because kids are looking for a better high, but because once a kid has done marijuana, "it opens you to the world of the other drugs."
Had Andrew not been selling drugs, he may have qualified for drug court, an intensive addiction program that's already been used in other parts of North Dakota, but is new to Barnes and Stutsman Counties.
Drug court is a program intended to intervene in the lives of substance abusers and could be an alternative to detention for some youth offenders, according to Wieland. The Barnes/Stutsman County program is for juvenile offenders, though other programs, including the one in Bismarck where Andrew was arrested, accept adult offenders.
The Stutsman-Barnes Juvenile Drug Court depends on frequent drug/alcohol testing/ intense supervision by a judge and the probation system, counseling for the offender and his/her family, drug abuse treatment and educational opportunities, according to the Stutsman-Barnes JDC. The drug court uses incentives and sanctions to help ensure compliance.
For instance, offenders must be accepted to the program, with much of the criteria for acceptance depending on whether his offense was addiction related, how many times the juvenile has been arrested (multiple attempts at probation are required) whether the offender has a chance for rehabilitation, and the parents' willingness to participate as well. And while most other drug courts do not accept violent offenders or those who have been charged with selling drugs, the Stutsman-Barnes program does, but only if the crime was committed because of an addiction, according to Wieland.
Once the offender is accepted, he will progress through a series of paths, each one with a minimum number of weekly reviews, random and scheduled drug/and alcohol screens, contacts with a probation, school work, community service as ordered by the judge,tracking as ordered by the judge, and participation in treatment if it is recommended. Parental participation is required with parents expected to attend progress review hearings and possibly participate in therapy, according to Wieland.
Participants would be able to earn incentives, such as treats or reduction in community service for good weeks, or be sanction by losing privileges or getting more community service for violations of the rules. As participants progress through the five paths, the requirements for each become less restrictive.
Completing the juvenile drug court program can take up to 18 months, with a minimum of nine months, as some participants spend longer on some paths than others.
Juveniles who successfully complete the program will have their records expunged.
Drug courts have about a 50 percent success rate, much higher than incarceration, said Wieland. And they cost a lot less. While she can't estimate how much it will cost for a juvenile to go through drug court, it will be much less than the approximately $88,000 per year it costs to house a juvenile offender in a detention center.
Barnes County State's Attorney Lee Grossman will act as the prosecutor for Barnes County's participants in the program and is a member of the JDC team, which selects participants. "Our hope is that it will act as a deterrent," said Grossman, who hopes graduates from the program will not end up in adult court. When recommending a participant, team members will not know the offender's name, the offender's past or who the parents are, he added.
The Stutsman-Barnes JDC is still in its infancy. Stutsman County started the program and Barnes County only recently came on board.
Part of Andrew's parole is a recommendation to go to after-care, but currently the drug counseling program in the area, which is a Stutsman County program, is not available due to a loss of certification, a fact that is making it difficult for the Stutsman-Barnes JDC Team qualify offenders for the program.
Other Barnes County members of the JDC team are: Kristi Brandt, Valley City High School Principal; Sergeant Dana Rustebakke, Valley City Police and Curt Brown of the Barnes County JDC.
Drug court was not an option for Andrew, even though he sold marijuana to support his own habit. "I bought it at a discount, sold some of it for a profit, and smoked the rest," he said.
Andrew is still on probation, and he lost a lot more than time to incarceration. While he had no trouble finding a job, finding an apartment was a different story; very few people want to rent to a drug dealer.
Andrew came to North Dakota from his native Colorado where he lived with his sister, a recovering drug addict. He was clean for four years, mostly out of respect for her recovery – and she wouldn't allow it. But when he got out on his own, he started again.
Now clean again, Andrew hopes to finish his parole and return to Colorado. Though he dropped out of high school, he did complete a Job Corps program for computer repair. He probably won't find a job fixing computers, "I'm a social butterfly," he said, grinning. He hopes to get a job selling computers.