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New Court Focusing on Substance Use Disorder Recovery

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Work begins in earnest May 1 on Hilliard’s new drug recovery court, designed to help people dealing with substance use disorder find a path away from jail and toward a drug-free life.

The program was made possible in part by a $50,000 grant from the Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board of Franklin County. City Council approved additional funding for the program in March.

Dawn Steele, Hilliard City Prosecutor, said the recovery court approach has been successful in other communities, but has only been tried recently in Central Ohio mayor’s courts. Because mayor’s courts like the one in Hilliard typically are designed to handle a docket of low-level crimes, they haven’t been well equipped to address substance use issues from a recovery and treatment approach at the local level.

Results from similar programs in Upper Arlington and Whitehall inspired Hilliard leaders such as Mayor Don Schonhardt, Director of Public Safety Jim Mosic, and former Law Director Tracy Bradford to start the process of bringing a recovery court here.

“The idea of a recovery court is to identify people going through our court system who are struggling with substance use disorder and divert them away from potential jail terms and into a closely monitored substance-abuse treatment program that helps them get control of their lives,” Steele said.

The process begins before cases reach the courtroom. If the apparent facts of a case indicate an individual charged with a jailable offense might be a candidate for the program, the person can be asked if he or she wishes to participate in the two-year recovery program rather than face jail time. Those who agree to participate complete an application. The case coordinator and the public defender review the application and – if they agree the person is a good candidate for the program – they take the case to the magistrate.

If the magistrate agrees, the individual must show up at court every Wednesday for the first six months, must report to the case coordinator three times per week for two years, and is subject to random drug tests throughout the program. In addition, individuals must participate in clinical assessments that identify personalized treatment plans to help them overcome their addiction.

Steele said some cases have already been identified for consideration. This Wednesday, the treatment team will review those cases, but it will be a few weeks before the first person sees the actual courtroom.

Steele said this is not an option for every drug offender, and it is far from a slap on the hand.“They have to be willing to do all the things they’re required to do, usually for two years,” she said. “Given the grip drugs can have on a person, not everyone will succeed through this program. But we feel it’s our responsibility to help people recover rather than just punish them.”

Those who do complete the treatment and recovery court program will walk away without charges on their record – and with the potential of leading a life free from substance abuse.

“That is a much more desirable outcome than having someone convicted and sitting in a jail cell,” Steele said. “With a program like this, we are dealing with people on an individual basis, helping them break their addictions rather than just putting them behind bars. We are offering them treatment and potential recovery, not just punishment.”

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