LEBANON – Warren County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Peeler smiles wide as he talks about the people he sees in Drug Court.
“They are, by and large, very committed to their recovery, and it shows,” he said. “They are showing us that they want to get better.”
“They” are the 99 percent whose random drug tests while in the Drug Court program are consistently testing negative for drugs. For Peeler, it’s one of the best signs yet that being in the drug court program is working for many.
“Since we started the program in February 2016, we’ve tested participants 4.493 times. Of those tests, 99 percent have come back negative for any substance. That’s pretty strong.”
Of the one percent of drug tests that come in positive, Peeler said the majority – about 27 percent – are positive for alcohol.
Several participants have demonstrated that commitment to sobriety and recovery. Of the 29 people who have been discharged from the program since its start, 14 – nearly half – have done so successfully. The Drug Court currently has 18 active participants, Peeler said.
The average stay for those successfully completing the Drug Court program is 467 days.
Drug court participants are under close supervision, Peeler says, and are held to a higher accountability standard.
“They come to court every week during the first phase of the program,” Peeler said. “They do the work and are held accountable for it. It’s a very structured program: court once per week, random testing three times per week, ongoing counseling, and meetings with their probation officer once a week.
“There’s a lot of accountability,” Peeler said. “They develop a team mentality that carries through the whole process.”
Additionally, Peeler said almost everyone in the drug court program is permitted to work.
Peeler said one of the biggest joys of his experience with Warren County Drug Court participants is seeing them improve over time. “A lot of people in here have lost family because of their addiction,” he said. “I let them know what an important step they are taking and try to reinforce the good things they are doing.
“They become very proud of their accomplishments, and – sometimes for the first time in their lives – have someone who cares about them,” he said. “Their self-esteem just builds.”
Clinton County’s model
Clinton County Common Pleas Court Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck told the News Journal that Judge Peeler personally visited Clinton County’s You-Turn Recovery docket prior to implementing Warren County’s program. Rudduck said they “had some great discussions about the philosophy behind drug courts. He and I are like-minded and friends.
“The success of the Warren County Drug court affirms the conclusion that recovery is real and possible,” said Rudduck. “Congratulations to my colleague and his staff for such phenomenal success. Their work is changing lives, changing society, and reminding everyone that drug addiction is a health issue best treated locally rather than in prison.”
There are some needs to help people in the program. Peeler said among them is more recovery housing, which is a goal of Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties, the local board of mental health and addiction services.
“People in the program are sometimes living in the same environment that got them into trouble in the first place,” Peeler said. “They wind up confined to a bedroom to stay away from the other activity in the house. That’s a problem.”
The other need is reliable transportation, because people in the program may have had their driver’s license suspended and have fees to pay to get it back. “It becomes a big problem when they need to work to make money to get their license back, but they can’t drive to a job to make that money. There needs to be better support to help them get to work.”
For some who cannot take part in the drug court program, there may be another alternative: treatment in lieu of conviction.
Peeler said participants in that program may have been charged with a non-violent, low-level felony like possession of the drug to which they are addicted. If they successfully complete the program and abstain from more illegal activity, Peeler said they can be eligible to have the charges dismissed and their record sealed.
Peeler says the court works well in Warren County because participants who successfully finish feel respected.
“People in recovery deserve to be respected,” Peeler said. “ I respect people in recovery because one, they want to get better, and two, they generally have a good head on their shoulders.” Learn more about the court at www.co.warren.oh.us/commonpleas/DrugCourt/explanation.pdf.
John Cummings is with Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties.