2017-05-17 / Front Page

Fulton County Drug Court Offers Hope

by David Pugh
Buckeye Staff Writer

The new Fulton County Drug Court program is a lot of things.

Drug Court offers persons addicted to substances ranging from alcohol to heroin an opportunity to get special, individualized help to deal with their addiction and become productive members of society again.

Jeffrey Robinson, Fulton County Common Pleas Court judge who brought the program to Fulton County, said the one thing Drug Court provides is hope.

“We think the vast majority of persons who qualify will be able to get through the program, and they’re going to be able to live clean and sober for the rest of their lives,” he said.

“Hope. That is the key word. The one thing we’re providing is hope.”

Not

At the same time, there are a lot of things Drug Court is not.

Robinson is very clear: Drug Court is not a way to get out from under a criminal conviction.

“I want to make everybody understand, this is no free pass here. This is not, ‘Well, I’m going to do Drug Court, and then there will be no consequences.’

“Drug Court is part of each person’s community control or probation. They must still face their original criminal charge.

“If they can successfully complete the Drug Court program, they still face conviction for a felony.”

Also, Drug Court is not easy.

Robinson said it takes two years to complete the program. Some of that time could include a stay in a program like SEARCH in Bowling Green, which Erica Burkholder, Drug Court coordinator, said is essentially four months of incarcerated inpatient drug treatment.

There are programs to follow, drug tests to take, meetings to attend, appointments to keep.

In fact, a one-year prison sentence is easier than going through Drug Court, Robinson said.

“This is no picnic, this is no free ride, this is no gift, this is no pass,” he said.

“What the public needs to understand is we’re real taskmasters.”

Even though Robinson had to get the approval of the Ohio Supreme Court to establish a Drug Court, it’s not a court. Supreme court approval was granted in February.

Robinson meets with persons undergoing the Drug Court program twice a week in the Common Pleas courtroom.

He does not wear his official robe of office. He addresses the participants by their first names.

“When I was on the bench the first time, some of the participants were shocked to find I had a sense of humor, that I was very human. I asked them about their backgrounds and talked about my own,” he said.

Referral, Assessment

Potential Drug Court participants can be referred to the program by their defense attorneys. A judge can make a recommendation, as can probation officers.

If they were charged with a felony offense in Fulton County, or if they live in Fulton County and are charged with a felony in another county, they can be eligible for Drug Court.

Violent offenders are not eligible, although there are some exceptions.

Persons who have dealt in drugs are not eligible. Sex offenders are not eligible.

After an individual applies for the program, they meet with Burkholder, who determines what they need to do.

Then there is an extensive assessment done by service providers– agencies that deal with drug addiction.

“The assessment is basically what they are addicted to, their mental health, and psychological issues. We try to get a full feel for the individual needs,” Robinson said.

But even after all of that, they’re still not in the program.

Robinson said after the assessment is complete, he, Burkholder, an individual representing the agency that did the assessment, and others meet.

If a person is accepted into the program, a treatment plan is developed specifically for the person.

“With a lot of people, it’s a matter of getting them away from their source of drugs so we can get them completely sober; and also, so we can, for some, get them a little healthier. Some of these people are really in bad health,” Robinson said.

Accountability

“What we’re looking for early on is accountability,” he said. “You have to own it.

“You have to stop blaming circumstances and things and people for your addiction.

“If you don’t show up for a drug test and you don’t have a real good reason for not dropping urine, you’ve got to own that. You’ve got to tell us why.

“Once the individuals realize that as a group the treatment team is there to provide them with assistance and can take advantage of that, I think it goes much better.”

Cost

Robinson said Drug Court is actually not very expensive.

“We’re throwing about $60,000 at it this year,” he said.

“We receive $37,000 from the ADAMhs (Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services) Board, so that’s what we’re spending.

“The rest is my time. We have some staff time tied up.”

“The cost of incarcerating an individual for a year is $60 grand ($60,000).

“If I can keep one person out of jail for a year, we’ve paid for the program. If I can keep two people out, we’ve doubled our money.

“If I can keep five people out, we’re saving the state $300,000 a year.”

But there are more than dollars.

Drug addiction doesn’t affect just one person. It can destroy a person’s relationship with his employer, family, and children.

“Being able to restore those relationships and restore that trust is a really significant part of this. I’m not sure how you put a price on that,” he said.

Robinson is passionate about Drug Court.

“We think we can make a difference in some lives,” he said.

“We think we can really help some people, restore them to their former good health and restore them to a place where they can now feel good about themselves.

“How often do you get to make a difference in somebody’s life? Hardly ever.

“If I don’t accomplish anything else in six years (one term as common pleas court judge), if I can get this program to work the way I think it will work, I will die a very happy man.”

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