As the number of cases involving drug-related offenses continues to rise, Washington County is once again seeking an alternative to prison for offenders through a drug court.
Washington County has applied for $218,036.71 from the U.S. Department of Justice through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to re-establish the county drug court, which ended in 2008.
The drug court program, called Judicially Supervised Treatment (JuST), would provide supervision, counseling and case management to individuals who have a demonstrated addiction to drugs or alcohol.
KEVIN PIERSON The Marietta Times
Justin Deems, left, speaks with his attorney Shoshanna Brooker, right, during a sentencing hearing in Judge Susan Boyer’s courtroom Tuesday morning. Deems was sentenced on a drug charge, and court officials are hoping for a grant to re-establish the county’s drug court.
"You take away the drugs, and they're very good people," said Washington County Common Pleas Judge Ed Lane.
Lane and Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar-Welch jointly applied for the grant, with the hope being that the drug court would be able to reach more people.
The county previously had a drug court from October 2004 to August 2008, and saw considerable success.
At a glance
About the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant
Administered through the U.S. Department of Justice.
Funds are awarded to state and local initiatives that improve or enhance areas such as law enforcement, prosecution and court, prevention and education, drug treatment and enforcement and corrections and community corrections.
Washington County has applied for $218,036.71 through the grant to re-establish the county drug court.
Awards are given for a total of four years, and extensions beyond that period may be made on a case-by-case basis.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance.
"I think we need to find alternative means of sentencing and rehabilitation," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks. "Because incarceration is not the only answer for these people we are getting for drug crimes."
Mincks was one of nine people to write a letter endorsing the county's need for a drug court.
The grant for the drug court would fund a probation officer for the drug court, a case worker and a drug and alcohol counselor. Both courts would share the same staff.
In 2010, 47 percent of all felony indictments in Washington County were for drug and alcohol violations, up nearly 18 percent since 2000.
Of all people serving probation for Marietta Municipal Court in 2011, 45 percent of them were placed there for drug or alcohol offenses.
Washington County also ranks 20th out of Ohio's 88 counties for the number of narcotic pills issued by doctors to residents. Prescription drugs are becoming one of the more commonly abused drugs in the area, according to law enforcement.
Those numbers highlight the need for the drug court, Lane said.
"I've always felt there was a need for it," Lane said. "The problem is funding it."
Through the JuST program, participants from the court of common pleas will enter into a 12 to 18 month program consisting of four phases.
Participants from municipal court will enter a shorter program, lasting six to 12 months.
The goal for each phase of the program is to provide guidance and assistance through the detoxification process, officials said.
As a whole, the JuST program is expected to combat not only the number of drug offenses, but also the number of thefts and break-ins associated with drugs.
"If you can get the addicts off their habit and make them productive, then certainly it's going to reduce some of that," Mincks said.
Already this year the sheriff's office is investigating six deaths related to overdoses.
The drug court began in October 2004 in response to an increase in drug-related overdoses and property crimes believed to be related to drugs.
In the four-year period of the drug court, Lane recalled numerous successes - and a few failures.
One young man was able to take his children on a fishing trip for the first time in seven years and another went on to a high-paying computer job, Lane said.
"We had tremendous success with it and we made a difference in a lot of lives," Lane said.
Drug courts are not the only specialized docket on tap across the state of Ohio.
More than half of Ohio's 88 counties have at least one specialty docket covering offenders such as drug addicts, the mentally ill, veterans and prostitutes.
The biggest demographic for criminal offense remains, however, those battling addiction of some type, whether it's drugs or alcohol, said David Browne, executive director for the Washington County Behavioral Health Board, formerly known as the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board.
"It's mainly the drug and alcohol population that runs afoul of the law," Browne said.
Lane said he can see a need for some other specialty dockets, particularly those treating mental health offenders, but noted there are struggles for them.
A veterans court in Washington County wouldn't service that many people, as few veterans in the county have violated the law traditionally, Lane said.
However, Lane said he has met with Washington County Veterans Service Officer Roy Ash who has expressed interest in sponsoring a course for attorneys. That course would enable attorneys to better understand the services available to veterans through the court system, Lane explained.
Mental health is a common problem for many offenders, with the courts regularly inquiring into the capability of an individual to understand what is happening to them.
Still, Browne said he doesn't believe they are in need of a specialty docket through the courts.
"Honestly, the people with mental health issues, I don't see them as any different from the normal population," Browne said. "Just because you suffer a mental illness doesn't mean you don't know the difference between right and wrong."
Lane said he has dealt with offenders with diagnosed medical conditions in the past, such as bipolar disorder, but added the treatment options available to them are hindered by state funding.
If all goes well, Lane said he would like to see the JuST program add a second counselor to address participants suffering from a mental health issue as well as the drug counselor.
The county and city courts hope to hear if they receive the grant between September and December of this year, with the program going into effect in January of 2013.
"It's very rare that they do cross-jurisdictional grants, but we're hopeful," Lane said.
The Associated Press contributed.