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Drug court helps to change lives

Among the goals of the drug court program in Jefferson County is to keep low-level offenders out of the prison system and to give them the opportunity to make a clean start.

In place since 2015 and under the direction of Common Pleas Judge Michelle Miller, the program offers those who successfully complete it the opportunity to have their criminal complaint dismissed and their records sealed.

That’s not an easy task. Participants must continue drug treatment, stay drug free and find jobs. Members of the court’s staff conduct risk and needs assessments while monitoring the progress of those who are enrolled, using graduated sanctions and incentives to correct behavior. It is not, as some people might say, a free pass.

Those efforts have paid dividends. According to Miller, 23 of the 55 adults who have been admitted have finished the rigorous process. That’s a success rate of 42 percent. Even more impressive is that 82.7 percent of those who have completed the work have remained successful.

A big reason for that has been a holistic approach to treatment that looks for ways to address alcohol and substance abuse while helping the offenders find a place to live and a job.

Access to housing and a reliable source of income are critical factors in helping people improve their lives.

Not everyone is cut out for the program — Miller said 14 people have been turned down — but for those willing to make the commitment, it represents a chance to be accountable while gaining a shot at recovery.

Miller and her staff are looking toward the future, and the drug court has just received a $30,000 grant from the the state. That money, Miller said, can be used to cover a wide range of needs, including gas cards to allow participants to get to their meetings, clothes for interviews and books for those who enroll in classes.

She explained that most of those who have completed the process have remained healthy, are able to care for their children and are doing well with work.

There are growing calls across the country to transform the criminal justice system by placing less emphasis on incarceration and greater attention on programs that help make a real difference in the lives of offenders in low-level cases.

Jefferson County’s drug court program is an example of how that process can change and improve lives, and Miller and her staff are to be commended for making it successful.

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