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The St. Louis County Circuit Court will hire a full-time treatment court commissioner to handle the growing number of cases involving non-violent defendants with substance use disorders and mental illness. The new position is the first of its kind in St. Louis County. It was included in a bill passed by the Missouri Legislature this year and signed by Gov. Mike Parson.

The St. Louis County Circuit Court (the state’s 21st Judicial Circuit) operates six treatment courts: Drug Treatment Court, Mental Health Treatment Court, DWI Treatment Court, Veterans Treatment Court, Family Drug Treatment Court for drug-addicted mothers and infants, and Domestic Violence Treatment Court. The new treatment court commissioner will handle a variety of types of cases.

Due to the sharp rise in the use of opioids and other factors, St. Louis County’s treatment courts had reached their operational limits. In 2018, 5,688 drug-related cases and 2,157 alcohol-related cases were filed in St. Louis County, according to state statistics.  Additionally, the number of civil and criminal cases involving litigants with mental illness also has continued to grow, boosting the number of participants in the County’s Mental Health Treatment Court by 130 percent in the last year.

Treatment courts are highly labor-intensive for judges and court staff. Working one-on-one with judges and teams of highly trained court staff, treatment court participants must agree to take part in an intensive regimen of counseling, drug or alcohol treatment, case management, drug testing, supervision and monitoring and regular check-ins with the court. Connecting participants with community support services – such as mental health treatment, trauma and family therapy, housing assistance, education and job training – has been shown to improve the likelihood of participants’ success. Successful completion of treatment court programs may result in a withdrawal of a defendant’s guilty plea, the dismissal of criminal charges or shorter probation. 

Judge Gloria C. Reno, presiding judge of the 21st Judicial Circuit, said a treatment court commissioner will help the courts to reduce the county’s jail population. “We are confident that the return on taxpayers’ investment will be realized not only in significant savings in the cost of operating the jail,” Reno said in a statement, “but in an improved quality of life for defendants, their families and our community as a whole.”

The St. Louis County treatment court commissioner must have the same qualifications as an associate circuit judge and will be appointed to a four-year term by a majority vote of the judges in the 21st Judicial Circuit. The new post is expected to be filled later this summer.

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