New Duluth specialty court brings hope for those facing misdemeanors

Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 8:30 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) -- A new addition to Duluth’s court system could have a massive impact on some people’s lives.

As a judge, Amy Lukasavitz has seen the worst in people, but also, the best.

“We have one client in Felony Mental Health Court right now who has changed so many things in his life,” said Judge Lukasavitz. “He is actually seeing his children again for the first time in two years.”

It’s a story Judge Lukasavitz calls a massive success, and one she credits to Duluth’s Felony Mental Health Court. A specialty court that provides people facing felony charges, who are suffering with mental health and addiction issues, intensive treatment plans, rather than throwing them behind bars.

The specialty court has been a huge success for Judge Lukasavitz, but she knew there was still work to be done.

“Knowing that there were still lots of folks that needed to be served in the gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor world,” said Judge Lukasavitz. " We’re hoping to be able to provide those services for folks with lesser offences.”

Judge Lukasavitz, along with her team, wanted to provide the same services as the Felony Mental Health Court, but for those facing misdemeanor charges.

It was from that, Misdemeanor Plus was created, making it a first-of-its-kind in the 6th Judicial District.

“We don’t have as much time with them as we would in the Felony Mental Health Court,” said Judge Lukasavitz. “Our goal is just to connect them to services and to be able to stabilize them.”

Services that include connecting them with treatment providers.

“They have more positive involvement with the courts, with probation, with law enforcement,” said Kim Gerads, a treatment provider with the DWI Court.

Gerads, who works closely with the specialty courts, says she has seen a massive change from her clients. Her saying the specialty court has allowed more people to leave their past behind, and rejoining the community after they face court.

“The participants that would otherwise have gone to prison get their lives back,” said Gerads. “They have full time jobs; we have guys working on the bridge.”

Judge Lukasavitz and Gerads saying the Mental Health Courts have been a successful change to the system. Noting how it’s not only proving to save lives, but also reduce tax dollars and reoffenders.

Judge Lukasavitz will be joined by Police Chief Mike Ceynowa for a downtown safety meeting next Wednesday.

They invite the public to join and ask any questions about the new court program.

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