Drug Court: Funds in place to bring back successful program

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi, right, defense attorney John Marsh, center, and Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Joe Derkin discuss how a drug court could lower recidivism rates of low-level drug offenders Thursday.

Funding is in place to install a drug court in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas by year’s end, and it will mark the first time the specialized court has been in the county in a decade.

A previous court ran from 2004 to 2008 before funds dried up.

The court focuses on reducing the number of addicts reoffending, by offering constant checkpoints with the court to increase effectiveness of holistic treatment.

“So are they going to benefit more from jail for 30 days or counseling and real help?” said Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Joe Derkin. “Instead of creating someone who can’t get a job afterwards and still has their addiction you can have a contributing member of society again.”

A drug court, or specialized docket, must be set up under specific guidelines outlined by the Ohio Supreme Court to be authorized to run in any county of the state.

“Those rules provide a checklist of all the partners we need buy-in from and what logistics and requirements we need to complete to be certified,” explained Judge Mark Kerenyi Thursday.

Kerenyi plans to have each of those needed partners– law enforcement, the adult parole authority, treatment providers, child advocates, the prosecutor’s office, public defender’s office and county commissioners (fiscal agent) around the table in the next month to discuss the logistics needed to run a drug court, and elicit their support.

“The exciting news is we’re going to have the funds to support the first 18 months, without waiting for grants to come in,” said Kerenyi. “I have $158,000 from the Targeting Community Alternatives to Prison state tax money that I have to spend in the next year. And the Washington County Behavioral Health Board has pledged $100,000 of the mental health levy money for the program’s first year.”

Kerenyi said estimates place running a drug court at approximately $200,000 for the first year.

“But I’m not looking at ever using any general fund, county dollars for this,” he said. “My goal is then within those first 18 months to go after grants to continue the program long-term.”

Kerenyi said he has visited other specialized dockets specific to low-level drug felonies currently in place in Ohio.

“We’ve visited Summit County’s drug court and it’s not that different from what we do now, we already can send someone to treatment, as can the parole authority, but there’s more direct accountability to the judge with the defendant and it’s that constant contact that is making an impact,” he said.

Attorney John Marsh, who is often the defense counsel of those accused of crimes in common pleas court but also has experience working through a drug court in the Youngstown area, said he sees nothing but benefits to Washington County if such a program were initiated here.

“The prosecutor worked out the agreement of what they pled to and then we would hold their sentence and then they would have to go through the treatment,” Marsh explained. “Sometimes you had to sanction them and put them in jail for 10 to 15 days, then send them to treatment and hope the treatment took. But then we just did progress reports and hooked them up with a mentor. Sometimes I would want to terminate someone (from the program) but the judge would always tell me ‘this isn’t supposed to be easy, we’re not kicking anybody out just because they messed up once or twice.'”

Washington County Prosecutor Kevin Rings said a program focusing on rehabilitation of possession offenders could also streamline efficiency in other areas of the court.

“I see it being a way to resolve low-level felony drug possession charges,” said Rings. “Even now most of those cases result in a term in the county jail and an order to go to treatment, but I think the quicker you can get them into treatment the better your chances are.”

Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar Welch is also in the process of researching how a misdemeanor “problem-solving court” could work in her purview, and last month attended a seminar reviewing how such courts focused on substance abuse work.

“You have to have the focus on what problem it is designed to solve and you have to work out how you’re going to determine eligibility,” said Welch. “Of course you need to look at funding but also who are you targeting and do you have the buy-in from the needed partners, do you have an advisory board and parameters.”

She explained that in her court there is also already targeting for treatment in lieu of conviction which has had some success.

“Municipal court had 50 people (last year) who were targeted and sent to drug rehab,” she said. “But simply going to treatment is not enough. Follow up and continued care are needed to be successfully reintegrated into the community.”

For her court, the next step is a meeting with similar parties to that of common pleas as the group determines waiver and consent criteria, targeting criteria and a clear statement of the problem the court would address.

Welch said admittance into such a program would more than likely require consistent contact with the court for two years, as the defendant works through the program with a case manager, the court and the participating attorneys, treatment and oversight.

She said while she will not be able to attend the Your Voice Mid-Ohio Valley forums next week, but will be sending parole officers to both the Belpre and Marietta forums Monday and Tuesday.

Kerenyi said he will be in attendance at the Marietta forum Tuesday.

Your Voice Mid-Ohio Valley is sponsoring three forums addressing the local opioid crisis in conjunction with local media outlets to invite public discourse on how related stories are covered, what resources are provided and what solutions may be available.

The first forum will take place Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Parkersburg Boys & Girls Club, followed by the Belpre forum Monday at 6 p.m. at the Belpre Masonic Lodge and Tuesday at the Washington County Fairgrounds Clubhouse in Marietta at 6 p.m.

Camden Clark Medical Center has also confirmed representation will be present at the forums.

If you go:

¯ Your Voice Mid-Ohio Valley is sponsoring three forums addressing the local opioid crisis in conjunction with local media outlets to invite public discourse on how related stories are covered, what resources are provided and what solutions may be available.

The forums will take place:

¯ Sunday, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Parkersburg Boys & Girls Club, 1200 Mary St.

¯ Monday, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Belpre Masonic Lodge, 1411 Putnam Howe Drive.

¯ Tuesday, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Washington County Fairgrounds Clubhouse, 922 Front St.

¯ These forums are free and open to the public.

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