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HOPE probation to make Mitchell debut Wednesday

A court services program aimed at assisting drug or alcohol abusers will debut with three participants next week in Davison County.

With a strong track record of success in South Dakota, officials are hoping for favorable results for Mitchell's first three participants of the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program, slated to start Wednesday.

According to a report issued by the South Dakota Governor's Office, 74 percent of the probationers sentenced to presumptive probation, such as the HOPE program, successfully completed supervision in 2014, the most recent statistics available.

"HOPE is truly designed for those individuals who can stop using drugs or alcohol on their own and ultimately make good choices," said First Judicial Circuit Court Officer Ron Freeman, of Mitchell.

Statewide, HOPE probation and Drug and DUI Court capacity has increased 198 percent since 2014. This is partly because of Senate Bill 70 or the Public Safety Improvement Act, passed in 2013 by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, aimed at reducing inmate populations and recidivism. Since SB 70 was signed into law, HOPE probation has been implemented in several counties throughout the state, including Charles Mix and Brown counties.

Unlike Drug and DUI Court, which is a more intensive program composed of five stages, HOPE is an extension of regular probation in which individuals are subjected to daily randomized urinalysis testing.

And one of the reasons HOPE is unique is because participants have no way of predicting when they may be tested. The participants are assigned a color and a selection is made every day. Then, they call into a hotline phone service and must report to the county jail to be tested for drug or alcohol use if their color is selected.

"Therefore it holds someone more accountable because he or she can not predict when a test may be required," said Davison County State's Attorney Jim Miskimins.

The goal of HOPE is to have the participants successfully complete the program, but could also result in officials referring participants to the James Valley Drug and DUI Court, said Freeman.

"Illegal drug use is a pervasive problem and we keep trying to come up with new ways to combat the issues," said Freeman, who is currently preparing to start a HOPE probation program in Yankton County next month.

The addition of the HOPE program "will cause some more work for the jail staff" because the testing will be done at the Davison County Jail, according to Davison County Sheriff Steve Brink. Additionally, if a participant fails a test, he or she will be ordered to a 48-hour jail sanction.

But despite the potential for extra work, Brink thinks the program will be useful in dealing with the drug and alcohol problems in the county.

"With the meth epidemic in the state, I am glad to see that we are trying to do something," Brink said.

There may be some additional costs to the county, but Freeman said that the cost of court services is significantly cheaper than the cost of incarceration. The average cost a day to keep an inmate in state prison is $53.98 a day versus the $5.30 a day to keep an individual on parole or probation, according to South Dakota Department of Corrections.

As Davison County prepares to start HOPE probation Wednesday, Freeman is confident that the program will start slowly but grow to be an additional asset in Mitchell's court services office.