Drug courts keep drug abusers out of prison - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Drug courts keep drug abusers out of prison

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It's day two of South Dakota's 2013 legislative session and today, the state supreme court's chief justice delivered his state of the judiciary speech.

Justice David Gilbertson said during his decades working in the criminal justice system, he has noticed a pattern when it comes to repeat offenders.

The chief justice said South Dakota's first drug and alcohol courts have successfully rehabilitated offenders so they can stay in the community, hold jobs, and support their families.

KSFY News spoke someone who's seen this firsthand, a Minnehaha circuit court judge who helped get two drug courts started in our area.

She credits drug courts as the first thing she's seen which has worked to help turn people's lives around and make them productive members of our community.

Many criminal justice professionals believe sending substance abusers to drug court and treatment instead of prison benefits them and the community.

Judge Pat Riepel said "eventually, the hope is, like many of them are doing now, is they have their apartment, they have their job, their paying their bills and they're just being productive."

Judge Riepel leads the Sioux Falls area drug court program. For her, treating addiction means finding the source of the addiction.

"You never lose your addiction but I think you develop your coping skills to keep yourself out of those trigger times. 'What makes me use? what are my triggers?'," Judge Riepel said.

Treating people in drug courts can be a bargain compared to the cost of putting people behind bars.

"If we have someone who's non-violent, who is being watched by the judge and court services and the police department and they're in our community and they're being productive, I think the tax payer would be happy about that," Judge Riepel said.

The goal of drug courts is to prevent the revolving door of repeat offenders.

"This person, if we send them to the "pen" and believe me, I've seen my fair share, but we send people to the "pen," they come out. If you send someone to the pen, their problems aren't going to go away. They're going to still have these problems when they come out," Judge Riepel said.

Judge Riepel believes the program gives people the right skills to get their lives back on track.

"Many of our people who are co-occurring, are self-medicating. So if we can figure out how to deal with their depression, then that's half the battle. During this period of time, we're figuring out who they are and helping them figure out how to deal with life," Judge Riepel said.

Judge Riepel said everyone admitted into the program is a repeat offender.

They are given random drug testing three times a week.

The benefits are the drug abusers can be employed instead of in jail.

And by bypassing the penitentiary, it saves us money in the long run.

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