YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – For 20 years, people have stood before Mahoning County Judge John Durkin asking for another chance at redemption, another chance at sobriety.
Wednesday morning, seven people received certificates after graduating from the county’s felony drug court program.
There have been 1,300 people who have entered the drug court and roughly half have successfully completed the program.
“Our recidivism rate is less than nine percent, and that is no matter the drug choice,” said Judge John Durkin.
Over time, the faces and drugs being abused have changed. Twenty years ago, the average participant was in his or her mid-30s and addicted to cocaine. Now, they are around 24 years old and the drug is most often an opiate.
The tenants of the program, though, have largely stayed the same.
“They have to engage in treatment. If they don’t have a license, they need to get one. If they don’t have a job, they need to get one,” Durkin said.
While the program itself is 20 years old locally, the idea was born before that when Judge Durkin says he realized society couldn’t simply lock up the problem. He said people were committing crimes because of addiction.
“There’s got to be a different way. So, I started doing a lot of research about his model and thought why don’t we bring it to Mahoning County,” Durkin said.
Unlike other courts where defendants are sent off to prison, this was a celebration — both for those completing the 12 to 18-month-long program and for the judge and his staff. There were plenty of cheers when this latest group of graduates recognized the anniversary.
“Thank you for chances, choices and changes,” Durkin said.
In this season of giving, the seven who graduated Wednesday may have received their greatest gift of all – getting their lives back.