PDT Staff Writer
The Scioto County Drug Court has seen a number of successes in its three years of existence. The court is operated by volunteers from various agencies that have seen it work in other cities and want to make sure it works in Scioto County.
Judge William Marshall was a former Portsmouth City prosecutor for 13 years.
"My philosophy when I was prosecutor, when it came to drug addicts, was to lock them up and throw away the key. That's what I kept going for. When I became Municipal Court Judge, within a year or two Daniel Cassity appeared at my door," Marshall said.
Cassity told Marshall the way they were doing things was not working, and the judge agreed.
"We were throwing people in jail or putting people in prison and they are coming back worse than they left," said Marshall. "They come back better drug addicts, they knew how to hide their addictions better. They were better liars. He and I sat down and that's when we first decided to get a drug court going."
In drug court, if the victims are on board, first-time non-violent felony offenders are given a chance to beat a felony conviction.
"If they can successfully complete the program, we will dismiss the charge against them," Marshall said.
Once the program is complete and everything is met, "we will seal their records, so they are not stuck in low-paying industries for the rest of their lives," Marshall said.
He went on to explain that drug court is more intensive than probation. Participants have to meet with court officials on a weekly basis in a group session.
"About a year-and-a-half is about the fastest you can get through the program, and that's if you do not have any backwards steps. As is the pattern with most drug addicts, they fall off sometimes, but you cannot give up on them --the idea is to give them support and positive reinforcement instead of negative," Marshall said.
It has taken the court a long time to get up and going. The court has been looking and applying for grants, but have not received one yet.
The court operates through the probation department with Tami Martin as the director. All the people on the drug court staff are volunteers.
"No one has received a single cent for their time. All that is, is time, devotion and the fact that we think we are doing something good for the community," Marshall said. "Drug addicts are not bad people, they are people who have gotten addicted to drugs for one reason or another. A lot of them start out legitimately taking pain medication and then the doctor pulls them off their pain medication and they cannot stop taking it, and that's what we see the most of.
"The people that I have put in prison as drug addicts, I would say 80 percent of them re-offend within a year of their release. Of the people who have successfully completed drug court, none have re-offended," Marshall noted.
Marshall thinks the court is having a beneficial effect in the community. They are turning people back, who are getting more than minimum wage jobs and are back with their families again and leading productive lives.
"The thing that I have noticed that's so prevalent around here is the young mothers who get addicted to drugs. It ends up being the grandparents who are raising their children. Through the court, we are reuniting the mothers with their children," Marshall said.
Currently there are 14 participants in the program. "Once (participants) go into our program, they have to be in some kind of treatment whether that be outpatient, or inpatient. If they do have a relapse, we put them into an in-house rehab," said Tami Martin, probation officer and Drug Court coordinator.
The in-house rehab can vary from The Counseling Center's Marsh House, Stepping Stone House or a variety of other places.
"We are not saying they are going to have a relapse, but we understand if they do. With their addiction, we give them the tools, the options and the opportunity to get clean," Martin said. "We put people back into the workforce. Some participants have never worked; they have been with the addiction so long they have lost a job or never had one."
The Counseling Center provides treatment to the Drug Court participants to try to get them back on task and provide them with the necessary tools to live a clean and sober life.
The Counseling Center provides its services at no cost to the drug court.
"We are not necessarily dealing with bad people, but sick people who are trying to get better. We monitor that throughout The Counseling Center through a twelve-step recovery process," Cassity said.
Cassity said he gets calls any time of the day or night. "We would prefer to have that phone call from them, than a phone call from the police department. It's about forming these relationships, it's about forming these bonds as an extended family."
When people show up at drug court, resistance to the addiction is always prevalent. Cassity said its the nature of the beast.
"The incentives the judge is giving these people is a very good incentive. It helps with resistance and motivation," Cassity said.
For those that relapse, there are sanctions placed on them. They spend some time in jail.
"Between knowing that there are consequences for their behavior and knowing there are positive things in the end. It squashes a lot of that resistance," Cassity said.
The volunteer staff with the Drug Court went through quite a bit of federal training for the operation of the court.
"One of the things we learned from the federal sanctions is that it's not a good idea to put people in jail during times they are working. We find out when they have weekends off and that's when they serve their time in jail," Marshall said. "You take away a person's weekend that really hurts them. You take them out of the workforce, they lose their job and that benefits no one."
The court tries to work around the participant's work schedule to enforce the sanctions.
"The bottom line is, when it's all said and done, what we are trying accomplish is that we are not just making a drug addict sober, but rather have a drug addict who is sober and is a productive member of society again," Cassity said.
It's also mandatory in Drug Court that participants have at least a GED once they finish the course.
"It's important for the family (of the one effected) to understand the process. We also offer education for the family. We host the Loved One's Group every Wednesday night to help better get the families on the same page as the client," Cassity said. "Family members can either be detrimental to the recovery or they can be a positive influence. We run across a lot of codependency issues -- where people will defend and be in denial over their loved one to begin with. That has to be overcome so they can set those boundaries for the individual."
The Loved One's Group is for the family and friends of the effected individual. They meet for an hour, 6 p.m. - 7 p.m., and is free of charge and remains confidential. The group is open to anyone who has a family member who is afflicted with the disease of addiction.
Cassity said that it's very important the family remain a positive support system for the individual.
"At the same time, to know what the signs are if a person starts to fail or slip again. The family will know to get back in touch with us and we can try to get the person back on board before they get too far gone," Cassity said.