Misdemeanor Plus: Duluth introduces a new court system

Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 8:14 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) -- A new treatment court in Duluth could help misdemeanor-level offenders find community support, rather than end up behind bars.

“A lot of the time when we arrest somebody and put them in jail, they might stay there for 12 hours or so, get out, and then start the same behaviors again,” said Dave Drozdowski, a Lieutenant with the Duluth Police Department.

Often times, when individuals are arrested for causing a disturbance or small crime, they are charged with misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors. That means they only face fines and short jail terms, before being released back into the community.

But for Judge Amy Lukasavitz, she wanted to find a way to reach out to those individuals. It was then she helped create Misdemeanor Plus.

“With this Misdemeanor Court track, we are hoping we get some substantial life changes,” said Drozdowski.

Misdemeanor Plus is a new specialty treatment court, helping community members living with severe mental health illnesses and face misdemeanors, find treatment rather than serve jail time.

“Connect them with housing, substance use help, just an array of services to help them out and get that bigger long-term care we want to see in people’s lives,” said Drozdowski.

But before someone can be placed in Misdemeanor Plus Court, they have to be referred through the police, public defender’s office, probation, or city attorney.

“It’s usually going to be somebody that probably has some established things going on in the community,” said Adam Tollefson, a parole officer with Treatment Court.

It is then the individual is placed in the Misdemeanor Court, given a team of case managers, a mental health consultant, judge, and probation officers. That team of professionals then works closely with the individual, creating a specialized treatment plan for them to follow.

“A lot of them are resistant when they first start, they don’t want to take medication,” said Nicole Hopps, the Managing Attorney for the Public Defender’s Office. “And then when they go through the court system, and they start taking their meds, they go to treatment, you see them reengaging with their family, with their friends.”

St. Louis County’s using this new judicial system to help in a different way, allowing offenders to make long-term changes, rather than falling back into old habits.

“Instead of just arresting people, citing them, giving them short term fixes, we are actually going to make a difference,” said Drozdowski.

Misdemeanor Plus Court is also cheaper for taxpayers.

The St. Louis County Jail in Duluth holds 197 beds, which costs $177 per-day, per-inmate.

For each treatment court participant, the public would save more than $6,000.

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