Drugs have been an ongoing problem in northeastern South Dakota’s Walworth County, but a pilot program could help some caught in the cycle.
The HOPE program has been underway since January in Walworth County. It’s part of the judicial reform legislators passed last year that focuses on treatment rather than prison.
Based on the cases that come across his desk, Walworth County States Attorney James Hare says the drug problem continues.
"Since I've taken office I would say that prescription pills are a huge problem, almost as much as methamphetamine," Hare said.
Those two categories of drugs alone take up close to half the county's total felony cases. Hare says meth hasn't increased since his time in office but it was a problem when he came in and it's remained one.
But a couple months into its launch, the new HOPE program could be helping those caught in the cycle of drug abuse and addiction.
"We do have a number of people that are doing extremely well, far better than we would have predicted," Judge Scott Myren said.
Judge Myren heads the new program whose participants have a history with drugs. Rather than going to prison, they stay in the community, check in daily and must take random drug tests.
Failure leads to a quick and immediate consequence, usually jail time. Myren says the program is designed to identify people who need help changing their behavior. It also offers accountability to those who simply need more supervision.
"Whether they're ultimately going to be successful through HOPE will probably take a year or two before we know it," Myren said.
Myren says the program isn't designed to cut the overall crime-rate. Still, if it helps turn around enough lives, after enough time passes, it maybe could.
Hare would like to see it bite into drug numbers, but he isn't expecting that to happen because drugs are very accessible in the area.
"It's a huge problem," Hare said.
The program has eight participants in Walworth County; it could eventually have up to 15. Another pilot will launch in Minnehaha County.