WILMINGTON — Having a new place in the courthouse to conduct drug tests on defendants — rather than space in a public restroom — may get added to the to-do list for an upcoming project at the historical building.
The idea came up Monday during county commissioner discussions involving court system leaders and design experts hired to assist in relocating the Adult Probation Department and the Public Defender’s Office.
Casler Design Group Interior Designer Elizabeth Visser asked about a drug-testing area for Probation’s reconfigured space, and the Clinton County Common Pleas judge and the head of the court’s Adult Probation Department both immediately endorsed the idea.
Chief Adult Probation Officer and Director Stephanie Blust said the current setup in obtaining urine specimens for drug testing can be “very awkward” because sometimes the general public and children are in the restroom.
Moreover, if there’s going to be an altercation or trouble from the defendant, it’s when that client knows he is getting tested and, depending on the results, may go to jail, said Blust.
“There have been scuffles and people running out and tackles; it does [at times] become volatile,” she added.
Later, Clinton County Commissioner Kerry R. Steed said he thinks a drug-testing bathroom would be “a great addition” to an Adult Probation Department area.
“I know there have been some complaints [regarding the current sampling location],” the commissioner said.
Another change commissioners hope to see when Adult Probation relocates is a waiting area so that defendants on probation won’t have to wait in the hallway for their appointments. Steed said the current situation means probationers are on view to everyone in the courthouse. And Commissioner Brenda K. Woods said she thinks it’s intimidating to the public when they enter the courthouse and probationers are sitting nearby.
The office area for Adult Probation is expected to be in the area currently occupied by the Board of Elections (BOE) — with the BOE to move to the County Annex Building on Nelson Avenue. The current Adult Probation area has been proposed as the new location for the county public defender’s legal staff.
Clinton County Common Pleas Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck noted the Probation Department staff has grown over time. But he said there’s little likelihood that trend will reverse any time soon.
For the foreseeable future, said the judge, he doesn’t anticipate a shift toward fewer supervision officers because there is state-level legislation plus a philosophy to try to treat low-level felony, nonviolent, non-sex offenders in the local community instead of sending those people to state prison.
“In the past, supervision officers were just to monitor people and make sure they stay out of trouble and they go to their program. It’s so much more complex now in terms of the needs those people have that you need that one-on-one relationship [between defendant and supervision officer],” Rudduck said.
Presently, there are approximately 250 adults on supervision in Clinton County, said the judge.
Blust explained to the design experts that under intensive probation a defendant comes to the Probation Department between one to three times per week; under basic probation it’s once a month; under enhanced basic probation it’s once a week; and with the drug-testing protocol certain defendants can be called in everyday for a drug test.
Clinton County Public Defender Rob Baker said he likes the idea of his office and staff being more centrally located by being at the courthouse rather than on Nelson Avenue on the west end of Wilmington. Since moving there, it’s been harder to get clients to come to the office, he added.
“I’d be happy for you to put us in the courthouse if there’s room,” Baker said.
There are steps leading down to the area expected to be the new home of the public defender. The designers mentioned the need to make the space handicap accessible.
Toward the end of Monday’s talk on office space re-configurations, Visser said she’s not aware of anything insurmountable in the contemplated moves and associated remodeling.
Commissioners President Patrick Haley offered that the overall challenge for the designers stems from the planned work taking place in a historical building that, moreover, has limited space, but the designers nevertheless trying to accommodate the particular needs of the relocating departments.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.