By Frank Lewis
Portsmouth Municipal Court is looking to build on the success of the Scioto County Drug Court with a drug court of its own.
“Judge (William T.) Marshall’s court, on which our model is going to be based, has been so darned successful, I think if we can get a lot of those folks earlier, over in Municipal Court, they may not need to get to them in Common Pleas Court,” Portsmouth Municipal Court Judge Russell D. Kegley said. “Not only with felonies is our court the first stop but generally we’re the first stop for a person. We start seeing them before they start seeing them over in Common Pleas Court. They start small and generally build themselves up.”
Kegley said drug courts are needed because interdiction has generally not been successful, meaning that just arresting people and putting them in jail does not diminish the illegal drug problem in Scioto County.
“I think the key is getting (offenders) early education,” Kegley said. “I’m hoping that if we are successful with this campaign I’m running now for Juvenile Court, I’d like to see these programs getting into the homes of the children and starting that education early. It’s not that it hasn’t been started. Certainly education has been a key component of this fight for a long time. But I think you need to get it into the homes where the children are early.”
Kegley said the court’s goal is to reduce drug use and thus the criminal activity associated with it.
“Judge Marshall’s program has been excellent in controlling recidivism,” Kegley said. “I believe he has had one felony reoffender in 8-10 years, and that’s just remarkable. I don’t anticipate we’re going to be that successful but I hope we can be.”
He said the Municipal Drug Court takes on a slightly different focus from the County Drug Court in that it will deal with misdemeanance.
“Judge Marshall’s program is an 18 month program, and that works over there because they’re facing sentences up to life in prison,” Kegley said. “With us, the most you’re looking at are some six month sentences and we can aggregate three of them. So the most we can do to anybody is 18 months.”
Kegley said sometimes there are people who come through the system who are not genuinely serious about their recovery. In one such case a man was on probation and looking at probation revocation.
“He was faced with going to a 90-day program and he asked me to get him help. He wanted to get clean,?” Kegley said. “I told him we could do that and that he probably would remain in the jail for a few days until we found a bed for him and then we would release him directly into the program. He found out the program was likely to be 90 days. He only owed the court 73 days, and that’s what he told me - why would I do 90 days instead of 73 days?”
Kegley said he had been under the impression the man’s goal was to get clean, but when he compared the days, he found the 73 days easier to do than the 90 days in a drug rehabilitation program.
“All of the other guys at the jail were telling him - ‘what’s wrong with you?’” Kegley said. “But he was convinced he had a great deal.”
Kegley said Drug Court participants will be non-violent offenders whose activity has been driven by drug usage, and the victim of the person’s crime has to agree to the offender being placed in the program before it can happen.
“The participant gets identified by a number of folks,” Kegley said. “They can be identified by us in the court room once we see them. Generally what’s probably going to happen is, once we see them and we refer them to our Probation Department, they go through the risk assessment, and if the risk assessment would indicate that they would be a good candidate, then they’re going to recommend; the Probation Department will recommend that person. The officer out on the street that is making the arrest. Quite frankly, a lot of times they know a whole lot better than we or the Probation Department do, because they’ve been seeing these folks out there repeatedly.”
Kegley said Municipal Court had thought about creating a drug court over the last several years but hit a snag over services.
“If they were going to need rehabilitation and counseling services, they just weren’t available for a lot of folks who didn’t have money,” Kegley said. “We wanted to be able to tell some folks that if you don’t have the money for services and you don’t qualify for services otherwise and you are falling through that crack, we wanted to be able to tell them we can give you some of those services. So we started applying for grants. Back in December we got a grant from the Community Corrections Act (CCA). That gives us enough money to hire two chemical dependency counselors assistants. They can work their way up through education to become counselors and as high as licensed social workers.”
Kegley said, since the beginning of the drug court another development has occurred, the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio, which makes nearly everybody eligible for services.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.