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Drug court gets head start

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POLSON — A $50,000 grant from the Gianforte Family Foundation is enabling Lake County to get a head start on its drug court.

The county has seen an increased number of drug cases over the past several years, and the drug court is an attempt to better deal with the individuals who make up those cases, which tend to clog up the district court and the jail.

The grant will provide funds for the county to hire a drug court coordinator, Deputy County Attorney James Lapotka said last week. The county hopes to have the position filled within a couple of weeks.

Lapotka, who is one of a number of local professionals volunteering to help get a drug court up and running, said the county hopes to hear about a $350,000 Department of Justice grant by August or September. Early indications are that the county will receive the federal grant, he said. Until then, “we’re going to operate a drug court on borrowed and stolen paper clips and Post- It Notes,” he said.

The drug court coordinator will try to help drug users and addicts get the assistance they need, whether it be outpatient drug treatment, mental health counseling, drug testing, safe and stable living arrangements and gainful employment. The latter two will be required to graduate from drug court, he said.

The coordinator will help folks apply for Supplemental Security Income, Section 8 housing and tribal housing, for example. A sober living house is planned at Black Bear Ranch north of Hot Springs too. These things will help those who typically exist by “couch surfing” with friends and family, Lapotka said.

In essence, the drug court will serve as a clearinghouse for a lot of social work.

Until the federal grant comes through, the county will set up the drug court by “bootstrapping” resources from the Office of Probation and Parole, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ re-entry program, CSKT Tribal Health and Western Montana Addiction Services.

Expenses these organizations incur prior to federal grant funding might be reimbursable through Medicaid (because of the Affordable Care Act) and the Indian Health Service, Lapotka said. Such expenses may involve drug testing and drug-monitoring patches, for example.

Donated office space near the courthouse will be used as a workspace for the drug court coordinator, although other items and equipment are still needed.

Lapotka, who began working with the county eight years ago as Judge Kim Christopher’s law clerk, said the $50,000 grant would be good for one year as a pilot project.

Other drug court volunteers include: Katie Campbell from the Office of Probation and Parole, Judge James A. Manley, counselor Jay Brewer, CSKT Councilwoman Carole Lankford, Lake County Undersheriff Ben Woods and defense attorneys Britt Cotter and Robert Lang.

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