AUBURN – Nemaha County commissioners offered tentative support for the expansion of a drug court in southeast Nebraska and the county sheriff offered his endorsement even if it means scheduling more deputies for courtroom duty.
Amanda Vanasperen of the Southeast Nebraska Drug Court met with commissioners Wednesday saying the drug court idea came out of response to costs and prison overcrowding.
Vanasperen: “We have a population of individuals that were re-offending. They kept going to prison, getting out of prison, re-offending and it was costing counties and the state umpteen million dollars.”
A drug court is not just a court hearing to hear pronouncement of a sentence, but an 18 to 30-month program.
Vanasperen: “They’re going to minimum be in our program for a year and a half. We hope at that time they are able to do that behavior change, they are able to get all the drug and alcohol treatment and, basically, turn the pathway that their life was going.”
Sheriff Brent Lottman said the more he learns about drug court the more confidence he has in the potential for success.
Lottman: “I will tell you I’m not a fan of probation. I find that to be a huge waste of money on drug cases. I wasn’t a fan of drug court because I didn’t know that much about it. I found out what it was. The theory behind it, what I’ve seen and heard from places, I think it’s a much better option than probation.”
To be accepted into the program, a person has to enter a guilty plea first. Failure in the program means immediate sentencing, but completion means the felony offense will be dismissed.
Vanasperen: One of the main things we do with our drug court, once someone is accepted, they have to do a substance abuse evaluation and they have to receive drug and alcohol treatment. There is drug testing up to twice a week.
She said there is also mental health assistance, whether it be counseling or modifications to prescription medication.
Vanasperen: “What we found is, if you don’t address both of them, if you only address the substance abuse and you don’t address the mental health, these people are just going to go back to the same behaviors.”
Five counties will share the cost of a prosecuting attorney and a defense attorney. Nemaha County expects its first-year share of $26,000 to be $5,000.