Stephen O'Keefe

Stephen O'Keefe ran unopposed during the November 2018 midterm election to win his first term at Goodhue County attorney.

In 2018, Goodhue County applied for and received a four-year, $500,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Justice to begin a Treatment Court. This idea became operational in April 2019, when the Goodhue County Treatment Court officially opened its doors.

Treatment Courts, also referred to as Drug Courts, have been in existence since the late 1980s. They were developed in response to the growing national problem of drug abuse and addiction. Specifically, the courts were designed to reduce continued involvement in the criminal justice system and to proactively address multiple collateral issues that can act as barriers to rehabilitation and long term sobriety.  These issues include, but are not limited to: housing, employment, education, mental health, and maintaining valid driver’s licenses. 

Evidence-based practices are used in treatment courts to tailor individualized, appropriate services for participants in the program. The goal of treatment courts is to engage participants in treatment long enough to end the cycle of recidivism as well as successfully treat their substance use and mental health disorders. 

In the treatment court approach, the court works closely with prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, social workers, treatment professionals, law enforcement, and other justice system partners to develop a strategy that will pressure an offender into completing a treatment program and abstaining from repeating the behaviors that brought them into the criminal justice system. 

As perfected over time, this approach has proven very effective. In fact, a report by the Minnesota Judicial Branch identifies treatment courts as the single most successful intervention in our nation's history for helping people living with substance use and mental health disorders out of the justice system and into lives of recovery and stability. 

With just over two years under its belt, the Goodhue County Treatment Court continues to show great promise. Interest in the program is strong and the graduates have demonstrated outcomes consistent with the research. To date, the Goodhue County Treatment Court has received 96 referrals, of which 30 individuals were accepted after meeting eligibility criteria. Of the 30 in the program, there are currently 17 active participants, eight have successfully completed the program and graduated, and five have been terminated for non-compliance or moved out of Goodhue County. 

Goodhue County Treatment Court expects a lot from the participants. It is not easy and there are certainly struggles, but for those who stick with it the benefits are many. Participants report the longest period of sobriety in their adult lives; reunification with children and family; stable housing and employment; new positive relationships; and an overall more positive outlook on the future with a desire to maintain sobriety.

 Hearing their stories of growth and change is inspiring. From a public safety perspective, with only one exception, there have been no instances of recidivism involving new criminal charges, particularly among graduates. 

These are good signs that the program is working and the investment is paying off. When implemented correctly, treatment courts continue to provide an alternative that improves public safety, provides life changing services, and ultimately saves taxpayer dollars.

Stephen O'Keefe is the Goodhue County attorney.

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