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Judge says court needs coordinator to assist with drug court plan

St. Croix County's judges are asking to move up full implementation of a drug court by hiring a coordinator this year.

Judge Eric Lundell reported that the county's drug court is up and running. It now has four offenders participating, and a fifth is expected soon.

The courts are applying for a grant to pay a coordinator for 2007, but even without the grant, judges feel a coordinator is needed and would like to hire one yet this year, said Lundell.

Drug counselors, judges, defense attorneys and representatives from the sheriff's department, the district attorney's office and the Health Center work with the pilot drug court program, but it is being held back because there is no one to coordinate, said Lundell.

He said the new job is "a key position" for the success of the program.

The county is applying for a grant from the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs. Applications are due July 19.

Lundell said three grants will be approved, but he isn't sure when St. Croix County will hear if its application is successful.

"The pilot program is working well," said Lundell. But things would go faster if a coordinator were on the job.

Drug courts are becoming more common throughout the country and are intended to deal with nonviolent offenders.

Drug court participants must take frequent drug tests and meet regularly with their judges. The judges monitor offenders' treatment regimens and impose graduated sanctions, including jail terms, on those who do not comply.

Participants are expected to stay in treatment and may be ordered to participate in educational, vocational or community service activities. Persons who graduate from drug court programs may have their charges dismissed or sentences reduced.

Lundell said the St. Croix drug court team meets weekly and sessions are held before court on Wednesday mornings.

"I think it's so important to the county in our war against meth that, regardless, we need the position," said Lundell.

"There's a windfall of benefits to helping these people in drug court," said Lundell. He said participants are expected to find jobs and pay support if they have children.

He said some drug court participants are learning a work ethic for the first time.

"I appreciate this approach," said Lundell. "I think we're solving lots of problems."

Meth is still a problem in the county, but it's not growing, said the judge.

"Everybody (in the court and law enforcement system) is doing their job, and it seems to be having a positive effect," said Lundell.

County Board Finance Committee member Daryl Standafer said he doesn't question the validity of the program, but there is the question of how to pay for it.

Lundell said if the county knew it was getting the grant, the courts could find some money to transfer to start the program in 2006. The Sheriff's Department might also be able to come up with part of the money, he said.