Drug court offers second chance to offenders

LISBON — Those committing drug-related crimes in Columbiana County could soon find themselves in drug court before Judge Chris Amato.

The Supreme Court of Ohio granted initial certification this week to the Columbiana County Municipal Drug Court, a specialized docket which will give some drug offenders a chance to complete treatment programs in lieu of jail time.

“It’s not a get out of jail free card,” Amato said. “You’re going to work.”

Amato said the program includes an advisory board from local counseling organizations including Family Recovery, the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board and the Counseling Center. Those going to drug court will have a probation officer, who will oversee their progress. The program will have people earning their diplomas, obtaining life skills and getting jobs. Going through the program can take up to two years.

Those graduating from the program will have abstained from drug and alcohol use for at least a year. They will have a sponsor or something similar approved by the court. They will have participated in a home group and found stable housing. Additionally, they will have paid any required restitution and have obtained their GED. They will have obtained a valid driver’s license, full-time employment or be attending school full time. Additionally, they will have all their fees paid in full, including the administrative fees and urinalysis fees for the program.

Besides graduating from the program, the successful person’s guilty plea could be dismissed or expunged.

“Obviously we want to get them off drugs and prevent them from committing future crimes,” Amato said.

Not only does drug addiction often affect the person addicted, but it can affect the family members they cannot support or may even be taking from in order to buy their drugs. Those same family members are on the list of people who can recommend someone for drug court, along with prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers, jail staff members, case managers and others.

Amato credits another attorney, Joey Phillips, with doing a lot of the work to get this drug court off the ground. Both Phillips and Amato have a personal interest in working on the drug problem after losing people they knew well to drugs. There are many having similar experiences, as Amato points out that Ohio is currently leading the nation in the number of drug overdoses.

“Each person is different,” Amato said of the drug users. “There’s no socioeconomic barrier drugs don’t reach.”

The charge does not have to be a drug possession charge to be eligible for the program either, just one where drugs or alcohol use were found to be a contributing factor.

A meeting is being scheduled this week with the people involved on the advisory board to get the drug court up and running, now that they have received a blessing from the state.