Juvenile drug courts making a difference

By Rachel Kytonen

Tenth Judicial District Judge Robert Rancourt always tells new judges during orientation that they are in a unique position to make a difference in the lives of those with chemical abuse and drug addictions.

Judge Robert Rancourt of Chisago County (right) and Rotary Club member Clark Joslin, visit with guests during the Rotary Club of Cambridge-Isanti Law Enforcement Day Luncheon May 6. Photo by Rachel Kytonen

Speaking at the Rotary Club of Cambridge-Isanti Special Law Day luncheon, Friday, May 6, Judge Rancourt, based in Chisago County, told the Rotary Club members and special law enforcement guests how he’s tried to intervene in the lives of those with drug and alcohol addictions.

Judge Rancourt was the first judge in the 10th District to establish a juvenile drug court.

A drug court is a non-adversial, treatment-based court program that utilizes justice-system partners to closely monitor a defendant’s progress toward recovery through ongoing treatment, frequent drug testing, regular court appearances, strict supervisions and the use of immediate sanctions and incentives to foster behavior change.

“We have an obligation to use our position as judges to help those and get them the resources they need so they don’t become adult addicts and adult offenders,” Judge Rancourt said. “Substance abuse in present in approximately 80 percent of child abuse and child neglect cases.”

Judge Rancourt recalled reading an obituary of an 18-year-old who lost her battle due to her long struggle with addiction.

He then mentioned he had only been on the bench for three weeks when a juvenile appeared before him on drug and alcohol related charges.

“I told her as she was leaving, I’m not going to give up on you,” Judge Rancourt said. “She turned around and told me, ‘I’m not going to give up on you either.’”

Judge Rancourt explained he sent her to juvenile drug court, which is typically a 12 to 14 month program, and she graduated from the program.

After graduation, she sent Judge Rancourt a letter telling him that she’s been sober for six months, has a job, and is doing well in school.

“I can now walk down the streets with my head held high,” she wrote.


Research shows cost-savings benefits

Judge Rancourt said national research shows a minimum of 90 days in treatment is needed for it to be effective. Fifty-nine percent of drug court graduates started treatment two weeks after being assessed and spent an estimated average of 179 days engaged in treatment services.

There are approximately 2,150 adult, juvenile, family, reentry and veteran drug courts in the United States. Nationwide, 75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the court.

Minnesota currently has 40 operational state drug courts, including 38 State Courts and two Tribal Courts.

According to information from Minnesota Drug Courts, since July 2001, 552 participants have graduated drug court.

Judge Rancourt also cited national research showing the cost-benefit analysis for drug courts versus prison.

• Tracking one cohort over 10-years, the Multnomah County Drug Court in Oregon recognized savings of over $79 million; a benefit of $6,744 per drug court participant.

• The Urban Institute estimates a cost-benefit as high as $3.36 for every $1 invested in treating drug-addicted offenders in drug court.

• After a review of 57 studies, the Washington State Institute of Public Policy concluded that adult drug courts showed a cost-benefit of $4,767 per participant.

In Minnesota, a study of 382 drug court participants in six of the state’s oldest drug courts over a three-year period revealed significance cost-avoidance of jail and prison.

• Both completers and non-completers spent, on average, half as much time incarcerated as the comparison group resulting in an estimated $7,040 of cots avoided per person, or a total of $2.7 million.

• Drug court participants spent an average of 24 fewer days in jail. This translates into an average of $1,749 per person less pent on jail.

• Drug court participants spent an average of 102 fewer days in prison that the comparison group with average costs avoided of $5,291 per person.

• 15 percent of drug court graduates spent 0 days incarcerated compared to only 7 percent of the comparison group.

Judge Rancourt also noted he’s seeing an increase of people with addictions to prescription drugs.

“This has been becoming a major problem,” Judge Rancourt said. “Youngsters are getting the prescription drugs right out of their parents’ medicine cabinets.”


Power to make a difference

Judge Rancourt stressed to the law enforcement professionals and other guests that they all have the power to make a difference.

“Those who have an ability to impact this area all have an obligation to work hard on this problem,” Judge Rancourt said. “We have an obligation to try to work on this.”

Judge Rancourt stressed only non-violent offenders are allowed in drug courts,  and parental involvement makes a difference.

“Parents also have to be educated and realize it’s not a good idea to have kids drinking in your home,” Judge Rancourt said. “When mom and dad are addicts, it’s hard to put a child back into that home, and then you are involving child protection services.”