Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Drug Court Offers a Fresh Start

Emily can come into Judge David Trimmer’s courtroom in Fairfield County Municipal Court now and joke about her golf game – but it was a different story three years ago. That’s because Emily was addicted to heroin.

“I didn’t have a care for anything in the world. I only cared about drugs. I didn’t care what I was doing to myself, who I was hurting – anything,” she said.

Faced with going to jail for probation violations, Emily opted for the Fresh Start drug court program.

Drug-addicted, misdemeanor offenders who are selected can avoid jail time if they follow the four-phased program that includes random drug testing, required individual and group session drug counseling, probation reporting, and a weekly face-to-face with Judge Trimmer for a status review hearing.

“We bring these people in with welcome arms but they have to want it though. Some of them simply say they want it to so they can avoid substantial jail time and we obviously sift through that. We are not going to let our program be used, it’s a respected program,” Judge Trimmer said.

The program started in 2007 after Judge Trimmer noticed a sudden rise in the number of repeat offenders with heroin and other opiate addictions. With overcrowded jails and a highly-addictive drug taking hold in the community, he decided there had to be an alternative.

“Where a person could be revoked and serve a substantial amount of jail, now there’s an alternative and the alternative is becoming a participant of the Fresh Start program and to start walking a new kind of life.”

To help drug court participants achieve that new life, Judge Trimmer is joined on a treatment team by a drug court coordinator, a probation officer, a drug counselor, a defense attorney, and a prosecutor.  It’s a coordinated effort to hold participants accountable for their treatment and recovery.

As one of the newest participants of Fresh Start, Jennifer is ready to turn her life around.

‘It’s odd to say but you feel welcome right when you come into the courtroom,” she said of the experience. “I’m standing tall with my head held high knowing that I’m in the right place at the right time. I think having all of their support, and the discipline as well, I know I’ll succeed.”

Thirty percent of the participants will graduate – with about 65 percent maintaining sobriety a year after graduation.

“We recognize that even if you’ve graduated from the program that life doesn’t automatically become easy. Life is still a challenge,” Judge Trimmer said. “Some of those individuals – while they did relapse, while they did pick up a criminal charge – have gone back to using their tools and they are doing pretty well with their life and their lifestyle.”

Emily knows it’s a struggle every day to stay clean but it’s worth it to her.

“It’s nice to have my family and the people I care about back, because I didn’t have that before. The drugs tore everything apart.”

With the drug court program, she and others are getting a fresh start in life.

Judges will address the opiate addiction epidemic at a statewide judicial symposium on June 30 co-sponsored by the Ohio Supreme Court.