Fossum Says Grant Money Will Create Opportunities

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Rice County Attorney John Fossum said the federal grant awarded to county social services by the US Department of Justice last month will create opportunities for his office, law enforcement and some drug offenders to avoid some of the harsh realities of the criminal justice system and give those offnders a true second chance at a better life.

The money, $1 million over three years, will allow for the creation of two separate programs, the Police-Assisted Recovery and Deflection Program and the Pre-Charge Adult Diversion Program. These programs have provisions for law-enforcement to help offenders by referring them to the County Attorney’s office as a candidate for pre-trial diversion, and enter an addiction treatment program instead of being charged with a crime

“It’s an opportunity for some offenders,” Fossum said, “to voluntarily enter a treatment program. If they complete that program, they will not be charged with a criminal offense, they will not have a criminal rcord, and it’s a chance for them to get out of that lifestyle.”

Fossum stressed that this is a voluntary program. “We can’t make someone go to treatment if they don’t want to,” he said. And the participants in the program will be supervised. Should they violate the parameters of the program, Fossum’s office will then decide if it is appropriate to charge them with a crime.

The grant is the result of a joint venture between Rice County Community Services Department, area non-profit organizations and local law enforcement agencies. Fossum said Faribault Chief of Police John Sherwin and Northfield Chief of Police Mark Elliott approached him, along with Rice County Sheriff Jesse Thomas, and asked if he would support the program. Fossum said, not only did he readily agree, but he also thinks it is an excellent idea.

“Again, I think this is a tremendous program and it is a big sea change. It was, as I said, supported by law enforcement and brought to us by law enforcement. I really congratulate the leadership of Chief Elliott in Northfield and Chief Sherwin in Faribault for bringing this forward because it it really is a great idea.”

The grant was highly competitive, with only 25 awarded across the country. Fossum praised Ashley Anderson of Healthy Community Initiative for bringing all the necessary information together and writing a grant that made the county such an attractive recipient.

The programs are expected to be in place by next March.

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