Meeting sets Washington County drug court guidelines

MARIETTA — Stakeholders in the pilot drug court planned to begin next year in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas met Thursday to outline parameters for admission and dismissal.

In October the Washington County Commissioners signed an 18-month contract with Oriana House Inc. to administer the special docket program under Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi.

Further administration of the court program past that timeline is dependent on additional grant funding obtained.

Kerenyi led the meeting Thursday with members of the drug treatment, law enforcement and courts communities represented to discuss measures and edit requirements.

Kyle Davis, an assistant public defender, said Thursday that his interest was in making sure the program is truly another avenue to help his clients not return to the judicial system in the future.

“If they meet the criteria and this can truly help them it could be a very good option,” he said. “We have a lot of clients that we see repeatedly and their cases are founded in addiction. At least this way ideally they don’t return with future offenses.”

The group went line by line, tailoring an already approved program description for Seneca County Thursday, with the intent to meet the needs of Washington County.

“We want to think about how we’re going to identify the clients or offenders coming into the court,” noted Tessa Smith, research and grants administrator for Oriana House, a private 501(c)3 nonprofit which provides addiction treatment services, community corrections programs and behavioral health services in Ohio. “There are different layers of eligibility that courts in Ohio use and are recommended as best practices, but that’s what you at the table are here to decide.”

Some requirements decided Thursday were steered by anticipated future federal funding criteria while others initiated discussion between treatment providers and the adult parole authority to determine authority over clients.

“Our regular intervention-in-lieu cases we won’t put into the drug court program unless they’re non-compliant,” determined Kerenyi, noting those admitted to the voluntary program may come through a recommendation by the county prosecutor’s office, through their treatment provider or through the adult parole authority.

Jason Varney, Oriana House vice president of correctional programs, noted that the purpose of a drug court program is to work with clients through inevitable relapses to rehabilitate with a wrap around of treatment, legal sanctions like jail or residential detox and to hold the client accountable to maintain sobriety.

All members around the table agreed that relapse is inevitable throughout the minimum 420-day program, with progressively stricter sanctions to be imposed the more a client is noncompliant with the program.

“Ultimately if they keep being noncompliant and it’s not working out I can terminate them from the program and they can go to prison,” said Kerenyi.

Drug testing is to be administered both by the Oriana House employees and by the Adult Parole Authority.

Varney introduced the newest Oriana employee to serve as the program coordinator, Aleisha Roberson.

Roberson has past experience working in drug courts in West Virginia.Varney said he is also in the process of hiring a caseworker for the program.

Traditionally, an offender who misses a treatment appointment or court hearing can be found in violation of their control under the Adult Parole Authority or have a warrant issued for their arrest.

But sanctions within the program would progress to those measures dependent on the individual circumstances.

Traditionally, a parolee is required to be home by midnight while under community control.

However, if participating in the drug court program that curfew becomes more strict, beginning at 9:30 p.m. with participants earning later curfew times as they successfully complete the five phases of the program.

Treatment partners Kate Jiggins with Hopewell Health Centers and Janice McFarland with Life and Purpose Behavioral Health were quick to discuss a need for education with prescribers for clients with substance abuse disorders.

“Our program is an abstinence-based program and we cannot heal the psycho-social issues if we first don’t heal your brain from the chemicals that you’ve become addicted to,” noted McFarland.

This discussion tied in with the group’s leaning toward not allowing those with recommendations from doctors for medical marijuana to have the substance, though that will ultimately be decided per direction from the Ohio Supreme Court.

As a whole, the program is designed to treat high-need, high-risk offenders through an intensive accountability to the judge, treatment providers and adult parole authority.

The program is contracted to serve at most 30 clients at a time with the judge making the ultimate decision of who is accepted into the program based on qualifying criteria.

Washington County Common Pleas Judge-Elect John Triplett was also in the meeting and voiced his intention to take on the same parameters of a drug court program during his tenure on the bench after he takes office Jan. 1.