WINONA, Minn. (FOX 47) -- It was in 1999 when the first drug courts in the United States appeared with the hope of keeping reoffenders from swaying off the track of recovery. Fourteen years later, Winona County joined the long list of drug court locations across the state and the country.
The process for Winona County started more than a year ago with members of law enforcement and the judicial system wanting to help people that kept reoffending. Now, their hard work is beginning to pay off.
Already six weeks in, the Winona County Drug Court is already going strong.
"It was either this or go to prison," said Dustin Williams, a drug court participant. "And I read through the paperwork on this and it seemed like a better choice and it's a good way to change your life."
Hoping to curb the issue with drug crime reoffenders, the court knows that even with good intentions in mind, it is not always perfect.
"We've had relapses already, but we expect relapses because we are targeting a certain population, high risk and high needs," said Judge Nancy Buytendorp. "They have to be chemically dependent to get into the program. So, we can't change them just like that."
It is an intensive process of random drug screenings, weekly meetings in court and the requirement of a job and nightly curfew.
Even with those requirements, participants know what they need to achieve.
"This is helping me see a better way of life instead of reoffending," said Williams. "It's really easy to get out and reoffend. This is teaching how to get out and do something with your life."
And it is a program that people generally go into willingly.
"We have participants in drug court that could've been off probation in six months and yet they chose to be in this lengthy drug court program just to change their lives," said Judge Buytendorp.
A change in lives to keep them out of court for good.
There are six participants in the court right now. Three of them are still in treatment, two are out on their own and one recently relapsed and is in custody.
Both the court organizers and program participants are pleased with how things are going, and those working through the program would not stop thanking them for the opportunity to get better.
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