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HOPE probation expected for Davison Co. by August

A new probation-based substance-abuse treatment program may make its way to Davison County before the end of summer.

Ron Freeman, chief court services officer for the First Judicial Circuit, which includes Davison County, met with state, county and local officials Thursday to discuss the possibility of bringing the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program to Davison County, and he said everyone was willing to give it a shot.

"After our initial meeting today, I'm very encouraged and hopeful," Freeman said.

HOPE probation requires drug and alcohol offenders to randomly report for urinalysis tests. Each offender is assigned a color and number, and a drawing is held every day. If an offender's color or number is drawn, he or she must report to test within two hours.

If the test is positive or the individual doesn't show up, officials can impose swift sanctions, including 48 hours in jail.

Because anyone placed in the HOPE program is on probation anyway, Freeman doesn't expect many new costs for the county. The extra drug tests will be paid for by the Unified Judicial System, which is a state-run organization, but Freeman said local costs may increase if offenders are ordered to spend more time in the local jail.

"There may be additional costs to the county, but a lot of these folks are already serving some 48-hour sanctions anyway for running afoul with a probation officer," Freeman said.

More meetings have been scheduled with the sheriff's office to continue the discussion, Freeman said, but he believes the program could start in Davison County by August.

Freeman said HOPE probation, which might support 10 to 15 offenders, falls between standard probation and Drug and DUI Court, which is already in place in the county and can serve 20 offenders. He said HOPE is designed for offenders who choose to use drugs, while Drug and DUI Court may be reserved for addicts who need more attention.

HOPE may feed into the Drug Court program in Davison County, Freeman said, in which someone who struggles while on HOPE probation could be transferred to Drug Court for additional assistance.

During Thursday's roughly 1.5-hour meeting at the Davison County Courthouse with two judges, Freeman said Sheriff Steve Brink, Mitchell Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg and State's Attorney Jim Miskimins all committed to supporting the program.

"I came away with a favorable impression of it, and of course with my training and meeting with my colleagues, I'm of the opinion that we're going to have a real challenge to simply prosecute yourself away or out of the drug problem," Miskimins said.

Miskimins said Judge Scott Myren of the state's fifth circuit, which includes Aberdeen, attended the meeting to discuss how the program has affected Brown County. After the discussion, Miskimins called the program a "positive step" and a "positive approach to helping people."

Freeman also met with officials in Yankton on Thursday, and he believes HOPE probation could take effect there as well.

Davison County officials were able to look at Charles Mix County for guidance, which became the first county in the First Judicial Circuit to start HOPE probation in June 2015.

Charles Mix County celebrated its first HOPE graduation one year later, and while Freeman said there may not be as many graduates as he'd like, he believes the program is worthwhile and moving forward in that county as well.

There are no discussions to grow HOPE beyond Davison and Yankton counties at this point, but Freeman said the state's chief justice is interested in spreading the program statewide.