Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Ohio Drug Courts Learn Best Practices

Drug court prosecutor Carrie Charles is in the bull's-eye of the opioid crisis in Ross County.

In Chillicothe, 33 people died of drug overdoses in 2017. While that shows a decline from the past three years, the opioid problem is still considered a public health emergency.

“Unfortunately in Ohio, especially in my rural Ross County, we are experiencing one of the highest epidemics we’ve ever had,” Charles said. “The traditional methods of putting someone in jail don’t seem to be working.”

She visited the Ohio Supreme Court, to hear from other drug court warriors on what courts can do to pump the brakes on this crisis.

When Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Yost took over its drug court from his predecessor, he admits he was skeptical on whether drug courts work.

“I wasn’t convinced, but I was willing to go ahead and give it a try,” Judge Yost said. “So I’ve been at it for three years now. Ordinary probation doesn’t do the job. The way we can keep monitoring them for drug court gives them the greatest chance of success.”

The main speaker at the conference, Helen Harberts, spent 25 years in criminal justice in Harris County, California, and praised drug courts as the most important innovation she has ever seen.

“These specialty courts are the greatest things since sliced bread, but they need to quit being specialty courts,” Harberts said. “This should be the way criminal justice post-adjudication should be, and perhaps if I would have known the statistics as a full-time narcotics prosecutor, I would have done things differently.”

These judges and prosecutors said the biggest hurdle is the inevitable relapse of many participants and understanding that the definition of success lies in small victories, not big ones.

“Success isn’t just about graduating,” Charles said. “It’s about getting their children back, people getting their first job. We try to celebrate every success as it comes, not just the monumental ones once you graduated from the program. We do it step by step as it comes.”