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Ohio Drug Court Cuts New Felonies in Half

Ohio may be one of the hardest hit states in the ongoing opioid epidemic but local officials and court systems are doing their best to turn those numbers around. Now one local Ohio drug court may have become an example for the rest of the country in battling crimes associated with the opioid crisis and addiction.

A study by the Dayton Daily News found the Montgomery County Women’s Therapeutic Court’s recidivism rate was less than half than other nearby courts that includes Montogomery County. Warren County had similar positive numbers in one of its local drug courts. Those positive results come at a time when Ohio government and health officials are looking for anything to help stem the wave of opioid-related crime. A study by the City of Dayton concluded that nearly 90% of Ohio’s Miami Valley property crime was related to addiction with opioids being the worst offender. In nearby Greene County, the number of drug-related arrests in 2018 had climbed 50%

“When you look at our caseload for felony cases, we hit record numbers,” Greene County Prosecutor Stephen Haller said. “It’s disturbing to sit there and sign indictment after indictment for possession, possession, possessing heroin, possessing fentanyl … It’s discouraging.”

The opposing numbers of from different drug courts come at a time when many Ohio legal officials are trying to figure out where to put money intended to curb the crisis. Drug courts are inherently more expensive and utilize more resources than the traditional court system but Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has made the specialized courts a priority in his administration. During his campaign, Dewine touted a 60% increase in drug courts.

In a traditional court system, defendants are prosecuted and then given a punishment like a fine or jail time. Drug courts focus on offenses related to drug crime like possession or property theft and seek to rehab the defendant instead of tossing them behind bars. Drug courts are only for non-violent crimes stemming from an underlying addiction.

judge in drug court

In drug courts defendants may be partnered with a probation or compliance officer, are required to take regular drug tests, and might be required to attend 12-step meetings or seek drug addiction treatment. 56 of the Buckeye State’s 88 counties have at least one drug court with harder hit counties like Montgomery and Greene County have multiple courts. The goal of drug courts is to reduce recidivism by treating the individual, not punishing the crime. Proponents of drug courts argue their techniques will help close the revolving door of addicts in and out of hospitals and courtrooms and will save the state money and resources in the long term. The numbers agree with the proponents. A 2005 University of Cincinnati study found every dollar spent on drug courts saves approximately $5 in prison housing and other expenses – that is assuming that drug courts do lead to a reduced crime rate – which the local courts have demonstrated is attainable. A more recent study from the University of Virginia found drug courts can save the state and its taxpayers a whopping $20,000 per successful completion.

Like Ohio’s overall strategy Judge Mary Wiseman of Montogomery county points to a holistic approach as the most effective. Holistic approaches seek to treat all parts of a person and not only their immediate addiction. In Wiseman’s Women’s Court defendantscanN work with a counselor or drug court compliance officer to discuss problems like mental illness, abuse, and other issues that might knock them off the track to sobriety.

“If they can’t heal from that, their risk of recidivism and their risk of relapse is very high,” said Wiseman.

In Ohio, judges must apply to the State of Ohio Supreme Court to get permission to hold drug courts. Though studies and numbers suggest they are more cost-effective in the long run, many judges simply don’t have the resources and energy to run a drug court which require much more work and participation on the judge’s part.

“There are some judges who have the perspective that … they just might not need a drug court,” Wiseman said. “There are also judges who adhere to a punishment-based model of criminal justice… We have opted for something different because we think in the long run, it’s more cost-effective at getting people disengaged from the criminal justice system.”

Many criminal justice officials are happy with the progression and holistic approach of the drug courts. Though drug courts take place after arrest, their use has been heralded by Ohio law enforcement officials. Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Tom Stickrath believes they’re vital to turning around the revolving door of addicts in Ohio jails and prisons. Stickrath believes drug courts save the taxpayers money and possibly their lives.

Warren County’s drug court began in 2016. 22 of the 40 women that enrolled in the program graduated, or fully completed their probationary requirements. Only 2 were found to have committed other crimes since drug court – much lower than the traditional average. 75% of the women who graduated from Wiseman’s Montgomery County court had no new crimes on their record after the Dayton Daily New’s research. 11% had new felony charges and 11% had new misdemeanor charges – a significant dropoff from the county’s average 3-year recidivism rate of 36%. Mahoning County saw much higher rates of probation completion for defendants in the continued counseling of drug courts compared to the recommendation of treatment with no follow-up.

The commitment of judges and other criminal justice officials to Ohio’s drug courts is helping the state reduce overall crime and recidivism for its participants. The positive results are spreading through Ohio and could set an example for the rest of the country.

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