MARQUETTE - Marquette County District Court officials are getting ready to expand their sobriety court - which directs repeat drunken drivers to treatment - in an effort to contend with a rising tide of felony prescription drug offenses.
For the first time in the history of Marquette County courts, the number of controlled substance offenses recently surpassed the number of drunken driving cases.
"The proposed enhancement to our current operations is specifically designed to confront this issue," said Marquette County District Court administrator Charity Mason. "The core objective of the expansion is to take the specialty court program we have in place for repeat driving under the influence offenders and essentially replicate the core components to create a separate, parallel, track for felony level prescription drug addicts."
This week, the Marquette County Board approved a $50,000 state grant to support current operations of the sobriety court. A U.S. Bureau of Justice Administration grant for $200,000 was also awarded to the county to fund the new court dealing with prescription drug offenders for the next two years.
Mason said the combined sobriety and drug court components will be named the Marquette County Treatment Court.
"The intent of the specialty courts is to address the underlying issue, which is addiction," Mason said.
Mason said since 2004, of 89 individuals who went through the sobriety court process, only one was arrested again for drunken driving.
District Court officials have partnered with county circuit court and Michigan Department of Corrections to create the new drug court. Officials are still working out eligibility details, but enrollment in the drug court is expected to begin being offered early next month.
"The need for a specialty court to address the problem of prescription drug addiction in Marquette County has been recognized for several years," Mason said in a recent memo to the county board. "The issue has become progressively more urgent as the level of addiction in our community has increased."
According to the Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, there were 25 percent more felony case filings in 2011, compared to 2010 and 37 percent more than in 2009.
"Indeed, last year the felony caseload was at the highest point ever recorded," Mason said. "Of that caseload, a substantial portion of offenses were related to controlled substances."
Once the new drug court is in place, the program capacity for the combined Marquette County Treatment Court will be 50 in the sobriety section and 20 in the felony drug court.
Mason said there will be some essential adjustments to accommodate the specific needs of the additional target population.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.