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Judge: Drug court leading to success stories

It’s been almost a year since the Compass Recovery Program–the county’s drug court– began, and the program has seen several people succeed in their goals.

“So far, we’ve had a bunch of successes,” said Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi. “We have some incredible success stories, people who went from not being able to do anything to now they’re working. They’ve got an education. Some of them have gotten their state-tested nursing assistant certificates. We have people working and doing fantastic things and enjoying a sober lifestyle.”

He said not all are success cases.

“We have some that are struggling,” he said. “We have some that were doing well for a while, but just fell off the wagon, I guess.”

The drug court has 30 positions total available at any given time, but only a few spots are left currently. If the 30 spots are filled, there has to be an opening before someone else is admitted.

Kerenyi said right now, the court is funded through Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) dollars and from the Washington County Board of Behavioral Health that they receive through their levy. The T-CAP grant is for two years and would run through the fiscal year 2020-2021.

“We’ve had a total of 22 go through the program. Eighteen are still in it and four were unsuccessfully terminated,” Kerenyi said. “I know we had a couple that were non-compliant and they ran. We actually had to pick them up on warrants. Typically, we try to work with everyone because we understand they’re going to relapse, but we had some that basically quit the program and ran and hid from us.”

He admitted there are a fair number of people who don’t get into the program.

“There are some people that ask for drug court that don’t get put into drug court. We don’t have that number, but that number could vary anyway,” he said. “You might have some charged with a pretty serious crime that says they want drug court, but we say, ‘no, you’re a murderer.’ There are some people that don’t qualify. There are some people that have asked and I’ve said no to.”

The drug court is designed to help high-risk, high-need individuals. Kerenyi said the people who want to go into the program go through an Ohio Risk Assessment Survey and they have to score a medium or higher. They also have to have a score of 2.1 or higher through an assessment of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Kerenyi said he takes into consideration the person’s prior criminal history before they are admitted to the drug court.

“Of course, that goes into the risk assessment. But ultimately, it’s up to me to judge whether you get in or not,” Kerenyi said.

The preference would be to admit people who have not committed serious felonies.

“Those are your possessions, maybe your thefts, people like that,” Kerenyi said. “Addicts that are committing crimes to get by, or their crime is being caught with the drugs.”

The program is set up to where the people have to work through five phases, which take a minimum of 14 months.

The first phase takes a minimum of 60 days and is focused on the compliance of the person.

“They have to attend status review hearings weekly, welcome home visits from their adult parole officer, meet with their case worker, secure safe housing, secure transportation, abide by the curfew and maintain sobriety for 20 days for advancement,” Kerenyi said. “The curfew is 9:30 p.m. unless otherwise directed.

Other phases include engagement, growth, development and maintenance. These phases each last a minimum of 90 days.

“Every step gets more liberal, so they’re earning privileges,” Kerenyi added. “Each time, they get more time off their curfew.”

He said that there are eight people in phase 1, six people in phase 2 and four people in phase 3, with eight pending referrals.

“They have to work their way through the program, so there’s no guarantee that it’s over in 14 months. They have to maintain a certain amount of sobriety and do a certain number of things to advance to the next stage, so if they were to have a relapse, they may have to do another 60 days in the same stage just to get the number of days of sobriety in,” Kerenyi noted.

Anyone admitted to the program must attend drug court.

“For the most part, we have drug court at 10 a.m. every Monday. As they phase up, they don’t have to show up every Monday, sometimes it’s every other Monday,” he explained. “In the beginning they see me every Monday in drug court. Some of them are coming to the Monday meetings even if they don’t have to because they like that accountability to me to see me and I can see how they’re doing.”

Kerenyi’s bailiff, Alicia Strahler, gets a front row seat to how the drug court has impacted its participants.

“They’re also supportive of their peers,” she said. “They’re supporting each other.”

Kerenyi added that the participants have bonded well with each other, which they seem to enjoy. He added it’s not a support group per se but that is part of the process.

“That’s part of what they do. They’re supporting each other,” he said. “It’s not exactly like a support group, as that sounds like they are just supporting you.”

Strahler said the participants in the drug court learn to work together to get through their struggles.

“The whole idea is to help them through recovery and we accept the fact that they’re going to make mistakes,” Kerenyi explained.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

Drug court requirements:

Participants voluntarily give up the following rights:

• Right to due process.

• Right to remain silent.

• Right against self-incrimination.

• Right to freely associate.

• Right against unlawful search and seizure.

Participants must attend regular court hearings, undergo random drug and alcohol testing, abide by rules of the program and probation and obey all laws.

If participants do not abide by requirements, they may be sanctioned to jail, residential treatment, additional testing and/or be terminated from the program.

Source: Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi.

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