The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 10, 2013

Ashtabula County Drug Court certified by Supreme Court

Program one of first in state to receive official certification

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — The Ashtabula County Common Pleas Drug Court is one of the first five such specialized dockets in the state to be certified by the Ohio Supreme Court.

There are 144 specialized dockets in Ohio. A specialized docket is defined as “a particular session of court that offers a therapeutically-oriented judicial approach to providing court supervision and appropriate treatment to individuals.”

In November, the Ohio Supreme Court adopted new rules that outlined the specialized docket certification procedures. The process is lengthy and requires an application to be filed, undergoing an official site visit and forwarding specific program materials to the Specialized Dockets Section.

Ashtabula County’s Drug Court was the second specialized docket to file its application with the state and complete a successful site visit. On Friday, it was among the first five specialized dockets to receive its certification.

Drug Court is made up of a team of volunteers who give people that have been convicted of a lesser felony drug charge a chance to be helped, with the payoff of a clean record. The program gives people, usually first-time offenders, the chance to plead guilty and be accepted into drug court. They then get into treatment and are regularly accountable to the judge. Once they successfully graduate from the program, their charges are dismissed.

There are also post-conviction participants as well. Although their convictions still stand, they participate in the program to live a sober life.

The Drug Court team consists of Common Pleas Court Judge Alfred Mackey; Ashtabula County Prosecutor Tom Sartini; Kathleen Kinney, Lake Area Recovery Center director; Ashtabula County Public Defender’s Office Director Marie Lane; Ryan Franklin, Ashtabula County Probation Department; Lois Miller, of LARC; and Kim Massary, admissions director of the Northeast Ohio Community Alternative Program (NEOCAP).

No one receives extra compensation for serving on the Drug Court team and the program does not receive any grants or outside funding, Mackey said.

There are about 40 participants in Drug Court and Tuesday, seven individuals graduated.

“Courts are not usually places where people are smiling and have positive outcomes,” Mackey said. “Drug Court is the exception.”

Mackey said he is very proud of the people who have participated in the program and overcome their addiction.

Each of the graduates were acknowledged and given a certificate of completion. The diversion participants were also given a certified copy of the dismissal of their charges. The graduates were each given the opportunity to say a few words as well.

Marissa, one of the graduates, said if Drug Court did not exist, she would be in prison.

“I am post conviction so I keep my felony but I’ve made friends that hopefully will last a lifetime,” she said. “I’m proud of myself. In 36 years, that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that and mean it.”

John, another graduate, started drinking and using drugs when he was 11 years old. He tried a number of times to complete a rehabilitation program on his own but was unsuccessful.

“During this last round of arrests, I was given the opportunity to go to Drug Court,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot at LARC that I didn’t learn at meetings. I learned how to get more out of meetings.”

Shane, another graduate, said he is truly grateful for the program. His youngest son was born when he was 50 days sober and has had a big impact on his life.

“With my other two kids, it’s unfortunate, but I don’t even remember the day they were born,” he said. “Now I have the chance to be a good father.”

Mackey said it is a privilege to stand in Drug Court every week and view the life changes because the participants are no longer using drugs.

“We have a terrible epidemic in this county and Drug Court is just a small way to try and tackle it,” he said.