New bill would offer treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent offenders

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(ABC 6 News) – Still in the first week of the 2023 Minnesota legislative session, local lawmakers are working on bills they weren’t able to get across the finish line last year.

Representative Patricia Mueller (R – Austin) says her new bill would direct nonviolent drug offenders towards treatment instead of sending them back to prison.

According to the Department of Corrections, drugs are involved in roughly 90 percent of the crime committed in Mower County. But Mower County Director of Corrections Steve King says many offenders aren’t dangerous, and could benefit from this bill.

“They’re not pushing drugs, they’re not selling drugs. They are addicts. And we need to treat them differently,” King said.

The bill largely matches one Mueller along with other Representatives authored last session. Mower County would mimic what a handful of other Minnesota counties have tried: giving local agencies money to put people on probation in treatment instead of in jail.

“They need more treatment and they need rehabilitation instead of being incarcerated because that just continues to prolong and to actually worsen their addiction,” Mueller said.

King wants the system to feel less like punishment, and more like an outstretched hand offering help.

“We only really want to incarcerate folks that we’re afraid of. Not mad at. Those that we’re mad at, we can work with. Everybody has their cross to bear. Everybody has some issues,” he said.

The end goal is to offer more mental health and chemical dependency resources to people that aren’t a true public safety risk.

“We know there is limited staff, limited beds, limited resources. And so we need to get creative with what that looks like,” Mueller said.

Substance abuse disorder resources can be found here and here.