Drug court makes sense for Flathead

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As Flathead Valley law-enforcement agencies battle an increase in the use of meth, heroin and prescription medicines, it’s encouraging to hear judicial officials and law-enforcement leaders talking seriously about starting a drug court for Flathead County’s judicial district.

Drug courts are judicially supervised court dockets that aim to strike a balance between the need for treatment and the need to hold people accountable for their actions. Instead of simply incarcerating people for their drug-related crimes, drug courts offer specialized programs to treat offenders who have drug- and alcohol-dependency problems.

The traditional model of sending offenders to jail has never been very successful because they don’t get the tools they need to maintain sobriety once they’re back in society.

Drug courts have a good track record. Seventy percent of Montana drug-court graduates did not re-offend in the first two years after discharge, according to a state judicial report. Compare that to the fact that 60 to 80 percent of drug abusers commit a new crime, typically drug-driven crime, after getting out of prison. About 95 percent return to drug abuse after they’re released, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

In addition to helping drug addicts get their lives back, another benefit of a drug court is that it would free up space in Flathead County’s already crowded jail. It would buy the county some breathing room as county leaders weigh their options for building a new jail and getting voter support to pay for it.

Judicial court districts are eligible to get start-up funding for a drug court, to the tune of $350,000 over three years.

So what’s the holdup in launching a drug court here?

Apparently support is lacking from the Flathead County Attorney’s Office, according to Flathead District Judge Heidi Ulbricht, who tried last year to garner support for a drug court.

The solution to that could play out in next year’s election when the county attorney position is up for election. We need someone who will support this kind of problem-solving court program.

The Flathead needs a drug court, and needs it now.

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