With issues such as substance abuse and mental health diagnoses increasingly impacting the criminal justice system, St. Charles County’s 11th Judicial Circuit Treatment Court has proven to be efficient and successful in preventing incarceration for offenders. The Treatment Court program is holding its 100th graduation Wednesday, Feb. 23.
“As with all new ideas and programs, many people are skeptical, especially in the 'Show Me State,’” says Judge Phil Ohlms, who presides over the Treatment Court. “One hundred graduations later, I firmly believe our 20-plus year documented success has made our alternative court programs one of the options prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement all agree is one of the most desirable outcomes.”
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann agrees. “I’ve seen the dedication of Judge Ohlms and the staff of the Treatment Court to the community,” he says, “and I am both grateful and impressed. This program is making such a difference in our community. Congratulations to all who have worked so diligently to make it a success.”
Treatment Court provides individuals an opportunity to become sober, productive citizens by engaging them in an intensive court-supervised treatment program. More than 1,700 participants have graduated from the program in over 20 years, with retention rates continuing to increase. In 2020, the reoffending rate over a three-year span was roughly 19 percent for drug cases, 7 percent for Driving While Impaired (DWI) cases, and 0 percent for veterans’ cases.
“The mission of Treatment Court is to promote safety while offering individuals a second chance,” says Treatment Court Administrator Gina Colaneri. “Our team is trained to maintain standards and ensure our participants are receiving the services that give them the best opportunity for success.”
To build on these accomplishments, the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office created a Chief Attorney position in 2021 whose primary focus is on Treatment Court and diversion programs. Jennifer Bartlett, who has been an attorney with the office since 2014, is filling this new role and represents the office in four Treatment Courts: Drug, DWI, Veterans, and Co-Occurring (the balance between punishment and rehabilitation for a person who has two mental or medical disorders). Originally shared by four prosecutors, the Chief Attorney’s duties now are streamlined. She focuses on determining eligible participants for the program and appears in court at least three days a week with a caseload of approximately 200 individuals.
“Substance abuse addiction is a driving force in many low-level crimes in our community,” says St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar. “By allowing me to create this position, the County Executive and the County Council have shown that they recognize the important role that treatment and alternative courts play in the criminal justice system.”
Bartlett is working to revitalize and expand the Taking Responsibility and Empowering New Direction, or T.R.E.N.D., diversion program by eliminating age restriction. This six-month program, implemented in 2018, currently is for first-time, non-violent offenders between the ages of 17 and 24.
“I want to stop the cycle and hold offenders accountable not only to themselves but to their loved ones,” Bartlett says. “It is so rewarding to help these individuals find the best path for success through Treatment Court and onto a second chance at life.”