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DULUTH - Ten years ago, judges, county attorneys, correction officers
and other community members decided a different approach was needed in order to
help people deal with their drug addictions.
"It was a big paradigm shift for us in how to operate
how courts should function and how to really put everything together we need in
order to really help people," said Jen Wright, senior supervisor for
Arrowhead Regional Corrections.
Drug Court was born. Teams closely monitor offenders in the
judicial system in a personal way, guiding them to sobriety and rewarding them
along the way.
"They don't get a felony record if it's their first
charge. If it's their second charge they still get a legal incentive but it
does result in a conviction. It's just not a felony," said Wright.
The program has served more than 400 people during its 10
years. Each one with a unique story, but all sharing a time when they thought
nobody could help.
"I was afraid I didn't know what the real world was
because I had done drugs for so many years," said Rebecca Leamarotta, a
graduate of Duluth Drug Court.
Leamarotta had been a drug user for 25 years, served jail
time, been clean for 10 years before relapsing and finally considering drug
"I talked to my attorney and my attorney said just go
talk to them, just go talk to drug court. I said I don't need those people. I don't
need them. I'm just going to go back to prison and do my seven months and I’ll
be done," said Leamarotta.
In Duluth and on the Range, county officials say 65 percent
of participants who start Drug Court actually graduate.
Wright said, "That's really what keeps us going. We see
folks coming back and getting jobs, going to college, buying houses, they're
having drug free babies and their lives improve for the better."
Drug Court has given addicts the tools to succeed, but its graduates
say it only works if the offender is willing.
Leamarotta said, "If you're not ready, go to prison. If
you're ready, these people will get you there. They will help you. They will
get you where you need to be and they will push you to be the best you can be. I
believe that with all my heart."
Duluth Drug Court meets each Friday at 1 p.m. at the St. Louis
County Courthouse in courtroom four. The sessions are open to the public.