YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Usually, going to court is the result of not-so-good circumstances, such as a trial, a plea deal, or sentencing. But drug court shows a different side of the courtroom where everyone is all smiles.
Judge Jack Durkin started drug court in Mahoning County over 20 years ago and said it’s his favorite part of the job.
Drug court helps people who have been arrested and are recovering from addiction.
“Not necessarily because they are bad people, not necessarily because they are criminal, but because they suffer from the disease of addiction and deserve a second chance,” Durkin said.
That team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for advice and encouragement.
“People who plead to a felony charge but their sentencing is held in abeyance, and we have a tremendous treatment team that works with them,” Durkin said.
Drug court celebrates the accomplishments of each person involved in the program but there is still the cold reality of consequences for not following strict rules. A woman was recently kicked out of the program and sentenced to four years in jail for not complying and getting in trouble again.
Drug court has four phases including checking in with Judge Durkin.
“Required to drop random screens, to call a phone every single day to see if their number comes up. So we demand a lot but as many have said, it’s easy once they accept and surrender,” Durkin said.
Participants are regularly drug tested. Durkin knows relapse is part of recovery and one dirty test doesn’t knock a person out of the program, but there are still consequences.
Around 1,300 people have gone through drug court in Mahoning County and 50 percent have completed it. It can take 16 months or longer to go through and graduate from the program.
“Of the 50 percent that have completed it, our recidivism rate is about 9 percent,” Durkin said.
Daniel Pew graduated from drug court and has been clean since April 30, 2015.
“When you first come into recovery, especially for me, you don’t have self-confidence, you don’t have structure, your life is unmanageable and drug court gives you the tools, and guides you, and puts you in places to be successful,” he said.
Pew is now helping with a new phase of the program called Jump Start.
“I hope that somewhere along the line, I can say something, someone will hear something I say, and that recovery is possible,” he said.
Watch WKBN 27 First News’ hour-long special, “27 Investigates: Heroin Crisis,” to see how heroin is impacting the courts and police, and which laws might have to change. It also shares the stories of recovering addicts who are rebuilding their lives.