Viewpoint: Crime reflects rising tide of drug addiction
Last year was another record year for charging felony and gross misdemeanor crimes in Goodhue County. The wave of problems brought on by the drug abuse crisis has spread throughout our collective consciousness.
Overall, the total number of felony and gross misdemeanor cases rose 33 percent from 688 in 2015 to 914 in 2017. Controlled substance crimes were up 48 percent at 313 in 2017 vs. 212 in 2015, but only up 1.5 percent from 2016-2017. Methamphetamine prosecutions went from 170 in 2015 to 231 in 2017, and heroin prosecutions went from two in 2015 to 10 in 2016 to five in 2017.
Crimes against persons — including assaults, domestic assaults, and restraining order violations — rose approximately 20 percent from 2015 through 2017, from 145 to 174 cases, but the total number actually dropped from 180 to 174 from 2016-2017.
Property crimes did go up; 98 felony/gross misdemeanors charged in 2016 vs. 140 charged in 2017, a 43 percent increase.
Termination of parental rights cases, where children are permanently removed from their parents and placed with others (often family members), went from 10 in 2015 to 20 in 2016 to 29 in 2017.
This pattern is significantly different than experience last year. We must now conclude that individuals are addicted and are paying for drugs with stolen property.
Over the past two years, a high percentage of methamphetamine prosecutions involve charges against repeat drug offenders. Often individuals are charged with new offenses while on release pending court proceedings in existing drug cases.
We have sent many of these repeat offenders to prison in an effort to break the cycle of their criminal activities. They are not committing new offenses when they are incarcerated, however, prison officials have not been very successful at treating offenders' drug addictions. Addicts return to our communities and resume use of controlled substances. We are now seeing increasing numbers of addicted individuals cycling back through the system while supporting their addictions with credit card fraud, check forgery and serial thefts.
Focus on treatment
In recognition of this entrenched chemical abuse problem in our society, new legislation adopted by the 2016 Minnesota Legislature changed the focus of fighting chemical usage issues from punishment in the state prisons to treatment with intensive supervision in the community. For the past several years, the Goodhue County Attorney's Office has worked with Goodhue County Health and Human Services, Court Services, Goodhue County Sheriff's Office and Minnesota Department of Corrections to identify or develop more effective local chemical dependency treatment resources. We now have chemical dependency treatment providers operating at least some community based treatment programs throughout Goodhue County.
In addition, one provider, Common Ground, is working with a pilot program for Goodhue County Drug Treatment Court to provide intensive monitoring, treatment and accountability for persons convicted of multiple drug related offenses.
The Goodhue County Drug Court is currently a small pilot program utilizing existing resources to establish credibility for grant funding, but serving only five or six defendants. While participating in drug court, defendants meet regularly with their probation agents and are subject to random drug testing to assure that they maintain sobriety.
If and when a defendant violates drug court rules, they will be held accountable with progressive discipline, possibly culminating in a prison sentence for those defendants who fail to follow terms and conditions of probation. The options for the court and the defendants are the same as under current sentencing, however, the emphasis is first and foremost on robust treatment and prevention rather than punishment.
Prevention of future offenses is further supported by wrap-around counseling to help offenders find jobs, develop healthy alternatives to drug usage and begin becoming productive members of society. Statistics indicate that many existing drug courts have significantly reduced recidivism among defendants successfully completing drug court probation.
General legal counsel
Beyond countywide criminal prosecutions, the Goodhue County Attorney's Office continues to advise the Goodhue County Board on the next phases of implementing the newly adopted Goodhue County Solid Waste Plan. The county and city planning continues to move forward to meet the legislative requirements to place the old Goodhue County/City of Red Wing solid waste landfill into the state's Closed Landfill Program. Contracts are in place to continue burning the garbage at the Xcel Waste to Energy plant in Red Wing. City of Red Wing is proceeding with their repair of the sorting and processing plant at the Red Wing Solid Waste campus following a major fire last year. The overall goal remains to better coordinate management of mixed municipal solid waste to help keep disposal affordable and environmentally sound for the small cities and citizens throughout Goodhue County for years into the future.
Last December the Goodhue County Board approved a $100,000 levy to establish a housing trust fund. Goodhue County is working with Southeastern Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the regional housing authority which provides housing development services in areas of Goodhue County outside of Red Wing city limits. (Red Wing's HRA already has a housing trust fund.)
Board members have expressed a desire to support community-based workforce housing, senior housing and services for the homeless population. The County Attorney's Office is helping to draft guidelines and ordinance language to implement the board's vision for present and future trust fund dollars.
Society has begun, and the Goodhue County Attorney's Office continues, to respond to the drug abuse crisis. The Goodhue County Attorney's Office helps Goodhue County, its cities and its citizens to fashion new tools to address the challenges we face today and tomorrow.
From prosecuting major crimes, felonies and some gross misdemeanors, wherever they occur in the county, as well as misdemeanor offenses in many Goodhue County municipalities, to writing ordinances to help implement policy, we help government and citizens solve community problems.