I respond to Wednesday’s op-ed column by Jack D’Aurora regarding the use of drug courts to reduce Ohio’s inmate population. D’Aurora pointed out many of the benefits of drug courts, but the need for specialized dockets extends beyond drug-treatment courts.
I am proud to say that Franklin County’s judges have been proactive in reducing incarceration and recidivism rates through the operation of seven specialized dockets, four of which are drug courts.
In the Common Pleas Court, Judge Dana Preisse has operated the Family Drug Court in the Domestic Relations and Juvenile Division since 2002 and the Treatment is Essential to Success (TIES) program has operated since 2004, with Judge Stephen McIntosh currently presiding.
In Municipal Court, I conduct the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Program (ADAP), which began in 2009 and eventually required a second drug court focusing solely on opiate addiction (mostly heroin).
Municipal Court provides three other specialized dockets: Judge David Tyack pre-sides over the Mental Health program, which began in 2004; Judge Paul Herbert started Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH) in 2009 to focus on human trafficking; and Judge Ted Barrows presides over the Military and Veteran Service (MAVS) specialized docket, which began in 2012.
Although most participants receive mental-health counseling, many also require substance-abuse treatment.
In June, Gov. John Kasich and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor presented the Ohio Judicial Symposium on Opiate Addiction. Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Director Gary Mohr presented data demonstrating that Ohio cannot incarcerate its way out of drug addiction or mental illness.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services compiled data for each county, which revealed that as of May 31, 44.5 of every 10,000 people in Franklin County were incarcerated — slightly higher than the statewide average of 43.7. But Franklin County’s drug courts appear to be an effective alternative: In 2013, Franklin County judges incarcerated only 11.1 percent of people convicted of drug offenses, placing it in the lowest 15 percent of all counties.
Without the continued support of elected officials and treatment and service providers, specialized dockets would have little success. County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien was instrumental in starting ADAP and CATCH, and he continues to support the programs today.
City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. and Public Defender Yeura Venters assign specially trained attorneys to each courtroom. Columbus City Council and the Franklin County Board of Commissioners continue to provide funding in exchange for increased public safety and cost savings in jail nights, fewer police resources spent on the same individuals and the reunification of families.
Specialized dockets provide a unique intersection of the courts and social services. Support staff and probation officers link the participants to appropriate treatment services. Other causes of criminal behavior also must be addressed, so participants work to find stable housing, build and maintain healthy personal relationships with family and friends, resolve medical and dental concerns, further their educations by obtaining GEDs or entering college and find gainful employment.
Participants must satisfy their conditions of probation, including the program requirements. The court receives frequent updates from the treatment team, and participants are required to attend court regularly, so the judge may impose immediate and graduated sanctions for transgressions and incentives to reward achievements.
Participants also bond as a group and lend support to each other.
Specialized dockets are effective. They teach and reinforce accountability while giving people a new start on life. I appreciate that D’Aurora has highlighted the need for and benefits of these innovative programs.