One of Yankton’s most quietly successful social programs deserves some praise.
The Press & Dakotan recently (Oct. 30) spotlighted Yankton’s Drug Court program, which offers an opportunity for criminal defendants with substance abuse issues to straighten their lives out through an aggressive and constructive approach that also serves as an alternative to prison.
On the surface of it, it’s an opportunity and nothing more.
In fact, it is a chance to embrace a different life path.
As was stated at the recent graduation, Drug Court is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, which some candidates for the program may initially see it as and which many outside observers may also conclude it is. Instead, it’s a 17-month (minimum) commitment by the participant to reshape his or her life in order to break free from their addictions and straighten out their lives.
It’s also not easy. According to ujslawhelp.sd.gov, Drug Court works only with felony offenders ages 18 or older, with people who volunteer for the program and who commit to sobriety and undergo various assessments throughout the process.
The program offers a chance for a new path forward. Whether the qualifying felon pursues that path is entirely up to them.
The alternative to Drug Court is prison. Reportedly, some people can’t or won’t commit to that process and take the prison time instead. And that is an incredibly sad statement.
During the most recent Drug Court graduation in late October, Yankton County Drug Court Judge Kasey Sorensen noted, “(T)his is hard work. They have to put in the effort to completely change their lives.”
Commander Todd Brandt of the Yankton Police Department has been part of Drug Court since it began in 2013, and he has witnessed the great things that spring from it.
“It’s why I come up every Wednesday for Drug Court and see what it does for these people,” he said.
Meanwhile, the program offers other benefits. For one thing, if it keeps a person out of prison, it becomes that much less of a burden on taxpayers, who pick up the tab for incarcerations. It also helps to cut the crime rate and produces productive individuals for the community.
Susan Jacobs, a former associate warden at Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield, enthusiastically praised the Yankton program.
“Yankton’s Drug Court is one of the best programs I have ever witnessed,” she said. “The Drug Court Team and their program have helped many adult offenders not only kick their addiction and become productive law-abiding citizens, it literally has saved lives, plus it has kept many from going to prison.”
For most of us, the success of Drug Court is a feel-good story with practical, constructive results.
For the participants, it may be something like a miracle — a path to a new life and a new destiny, which they control.