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Program from Hawaii helps SD drug abusers

HOPE program is a new option available to judges looking for alternative sentences to prison for those who abuse drugs

By Elisa Sand
American News

ABERDEEN, SD — A new option is available for judges looking for alternate sentences to prison for those who abuse drugs.

The HOPE — that stands for Hawaii Opportunity for Probation Enforcement — probation program, enacted through state legislation in 2013, is that option. The program was developed in Hawaii, hence the name.

Scott Myren, presiding judge of theAberdeen-based 5th Judicial Circuit, said officials were looking for a program that could be implemented, but wouldn’t tax the courts that have limited resources.

Essentially, Myren said, those convicted must complete the requirements of the HOPE program in lieu of prison time.

“It’s an enhanced level of supervision that requires more testing,” Myren said. “We’ve implemented them through a cooperative effort.”

Those participating in the program call in to determine if it’s their day to test. If they’re required to test, Myren said, they give a urine sample to local law enforcement. If the sample tests positive for drugs, he said, the participant gets immediate jail time until they’re seen by a judge. All tests are provided by court services.

Those few days in jail have an impact, he said, and from what he’s heard, the program appears to be working.

Not everyone placed on the program faces major drug charges. Myren said some might be charged with different crimes that were the result of an underlying drug problem. It’s also a program that’s most effective for drug abusers who have the ability to stop as opposed to addicts who need a more intense treatment program.

“Abusers will show they can modify their behavior,” Myren said. “Addicts get caught right away.”

If someone needs more intense treatment, Myren said, he or she may be a candidate for drug court.

“It’s about using our resources wisely,” Myren said. “I really feel good about what we’re doing. We’re making more informed decisions, and the money goes further.”

The advantages for participants in the HOPE probation program are many, including allowing them to keep their jobs and maintain their relationships with their family. Myren said it’s also an opportunity for offenders to see what it’s like to maintain a sober relationship with their family.

“These people have never had a lengthy period of sobriety,” he said.

The program is currently in use in Walworth, Campbell and Brown counties in northeastern South Dakota as well as Charles Mix, Tripp and Gregory counties. Walworth County was a pilot county for the program.

Myren said he hopes all 10 counties in the 5th Circuit will be participating in the next year.

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