Nick Blehr, 22, from Hoffman, is the first Drug Court graduate from Grant County. Family, friends, and law enforcement personnel, who he got to know, attended the ceremony on Thursday, March 9, in the courtroom of the Grant County Courthouse where Judge Charles Glasrud dismissed charges against him. Like any graduation, refreshments were served, smiles abounded, and congratulations were offered. There were also a few tears as parents of the graduate recalled how far he had come.
Blehr attended West Central Area schools with the Class of 2013. He liked to play football and play in the pep band. He also started smoking pot at the age of 13, taking pills at 14, and hallucinogenics at 16, the year his parents divorced. Blehr moved in with a cousin and had an after school job at Taco Bell. Then he started to get involved with methamphetamine and added Xanax to the mix.
“It was like being drunk but you didn’t get sick,” he recalls.
Blehr dropped out of school after football season his senior year.
“I would go to school in the morning because I liked band, and then go home. The principal knew what was going on and would really get on me.”
Blehr said when he turned 19 he started using the needle to shoot meth. It was about that time he found out his girlfriend was pregnant.
“That set me off. Things really went off the rails then.”
Things spiraled out of control as he hung out more and more with his “drug buddies.” He was arrested for domestic assault on his girlfriend and got a DUI on the same weekend in June of 2014.
Then he was arrested for burglarizing a friend’s house in August.
“It wasn’t a good time.”
Blehr spent over 100 days in the Douglas County Jail and realizes how lucky he was he didn’t have to go to state prison.
In May of 2015 he was involved in a car accident and was charged with careless driving. He was told he would be spared being charged with a parole violation for the burglary in the third degree charge if he would attend drug court.
“I didn’t want a felony on my record so I agreed.”
Nick Blehr entered the program in July of 2015. He had been to court 32 times, and was ready for a change.
Karon White, 8th Judicial District Drug Court Coordinator explains, “Drug Court is a specialty court program designed for those individuals who are at high risk to re-offend and who are also in high need of services to address their chemical dependency issues. The program is very intense and lasts from 18 months to two years.”
Currently, eight out of the 13 counties in the Eighth Judicial District are participating in the program. The counties currently participating are divided into three assignment areas. The Northern Assignment Area consists of Grant, Traverse, and Stevens counties. The Southern Assignment area is Swift and Chippewa counties and the Central assignment area is made up of Meeker and Kandiyohi counties.
“Drug Courts are a very cost effective way to address a very real issue in our communities,” said White. “Cost-benefits-analysis conducted show that, on average, for every dollar spent on drug court there is a cost saving of $2.21. National statistics indicate that 75 percent of drug court graduates never see handcuffs again.”
Drug court consists of four phases and participants need to meet certain criteria in order to advance to the next phase. Phase 1 lasts up to three months, includes a treatment component, and offenders submit to an 8:00 p.m. curfew. Phase 2 they have a 10:00 p.m. curfew, and in Phase 3, which lasts about 3-6 months, they have a midnight curfew. All pretty tough for a young man. In Phase 4, which is a minimum of six months, there is no curfew.
The 8th Judicial District Drug Court will use a multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary approach to break the cycle of substance abuse and to improve offenders’ lives, by involving offenders in a rigorous and supportive program that includes intensive treatment, supervision, and personal accountability. Collaboration between the Adult Justice System and the community results in educated and productive adults, healthy families, and stronger, safer communities.
Blehr was required to appear at a drug court hearing every two weeks, during the first three phases, and once a month in the fourth phase. At the hearings he would be questioned by his team, which included two judges, the county prosecutor, a defense attorney, probation officer, treatment representative, member of law enforcement, representative from social services, and others. The offenders are asked how they are progressing on getting their GED if they haven’t graduated high school, how their job is going, family relationships, etc.
Participants have to be gainfully busy, for at least three hours per week in either study or work, and complete 50 hours of community service.
Blehr was subject to random urine testing, and was tested 154 times, failing only once when he had a beer the night before.
“I never really liked drinking, or the hangover the next morning.”
As of his graduation date, Blehr had been sober for nearly 600 days. He was the lift manager at Andes Tower Hills this past winter and lives with his girlfriend and their four year old daughter. He plans to move to the Twin Cities later this spring and work with his father in the cement business.
“I appreciate the chance to start fresh and I am going to do it right this time,” Blehr said. “I lost a lot of my memory with the Xanax and I don’t ever want to go back to that.”
Nick’s graduation is the eleventh in the district and two more are scheduled in March. Another person from Grant County will gradute in May or June. To date, no graduates have been rearrested.