Posted at: 09/04/2013 11:12 PM
Updated at: 09/04/2013 11:29 PM
By: John Doetkott

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Olmsted County Eyes New Drug Court System

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- When it comes to punishing drug abusers in Minnesota, Olmsted County is considering a change.

A change which supporters say could save money and provide better resources to addicts.

Currently, around 40 Minnesota counties have a drug court system, and on Wednesday night a group gathered at the Rochester Public Library to discuss whether Olmsted County should become the next to join this growing list.

A drug court is essentially a program that allows addicts with a high-risk of relapse to avoid prison time, provided they stay clean and meet all of their other court imposed restrictions.

Officials say it's a system that favors rehabilitation over incarceration.

“The idea being that by keeping them in the community, keeping them employed, they're paying their child support obligations, they're paying their taxes, and they're remaining law abiding,” said Eric Thompson, coordinator of the drug court system in Dodge County.

Officials say drug courts also save their communities money by lowering incarceration rates and helping reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Karen Staige of Rochester went through the drug court system in Dodge County after an addiction to drugs and alcohol got her in repeated legal trouble.

She says that where probation failed, the drug court program gave her the support and resources she needed to get clean.

“It’s restructuring,” Staige said. “It's a whole different idea of recovery and finding a new way of living which is what somebody that's got the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction needs."

Now five years sober and in college to become a drug and alcohol counselor, Staige says she's living proof that the system works.

“I think it would be beneficial. I think the program has changed many lives,” Staige said. “They helped save my life."

But not everyone is supportive of a drug court system.

Some say the program lets serious offenders off the hook and poses a public safety threat.

But drug court officials counter by saying that an intense selection process means they only admit addicts who are non-violent and whose crimes stem directly from their drug use.