STOW-- What began as an idea between two municipal court systems more than a year ago has turned into what Stow Municipal Court Judge Kim Hoover called an "innovative regional collaboration."
Stow Municipal Court teamed with the Akron Municipal Recovery Court, formerly known as Drug Court, March 27 to offer an alternative to jail sentence for offenders who have committed drug-related offenses and are willing to put in a lot of work and a commitment to becoming drug free.
The Akron Municipal Court program, which has graduated more than 1,000 people since its inception in 1995 under Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer, has been very successful according to Akron Municipal Court Judge Jon Oldham who presides over the Recovery Court.
"What we are doing is giving people a path to life-long sobriety so they can hold down jobs and be productive citizens in our community and not go out there and re-offend, and not become a burden to our jails," Oldham said.
According to Oldham the program is cheaper than sending an offender to jail.
"To put someone in jail it's going to cost about $23,000 a year," Oldham said. "Or if somebody completes recovery court it could be $2,500 if they complete the program without any halfway housing or jail time."
Oldham said Recovery Court offers two programs to offenders. One program track is for offenders who have not yet been sentenced. The offender enters a "guilty" plea to the judge. However, if the program is completed successfully, the plea is never entered into the records. The second program track is for people who have been sentenced and are on probation.
"Track two is what we are opening up to Stow Municipal Court," Oldham said.
According to Oldham speciality courts have been proven to reduce jail recidivism (repeat offenders).
"It's evidenced based," Oldham said.
The Stow Municipal Court system has been aware of Akron's program and wanted to try something similar, according to Hoover.
About 18 months ago Judge Joy Malek Oldfield, who previously presided over Recovery Court, approached Hoover about a partnership, Hoover said.
"She was the driving force behind it," Hoover said. "We had an option to create our own or join with Akron. It was my decision to join with them."
According to Hoover this is the first time there has been a collaboration like this between the two courts.
"What we have done, rather than trying to re-create the wheel, is entered into this partnership with people who have been doing this for years, and we think we can make it more intense, bring more expertise to it and do it much more cost efficient than if we had a second Recovery Court in Stow," Hoover said. "That would have been a poor choice in my opinion."
So far there are about 60 people in the Stow Municipal Court program, Hoover added. Offenders will have to travel to Akron for the program.
"We think that we'll send probably five a month," Hoover said.
In order for a person to be eligible for Recovery Court he or she must be very committed, drug addicted and the crime must be the result of drug addiction, Hoover said. The crime has to be at least a misdemeanor of the first degree and the person has to agree to join the very "active and difficult program, to help you maintain your sobriety," he said.
"And if you fail, you can end up in jail," Hoover said.
Offenders are charged about $50 a month which helps with the cost of the program. The offender must also commit for 1 year, Hoover said.
"It's not for everybody. It's very difficult and the failure rate is high," Hoover warned. "But at least it's an option for those who say they are desperate for help."
This gives the court another option aside from jail.
Participants take part in an active probation and are drug tested, attend counseling and meet with the judge on a weekly basis, Hoover said. The program is a consortium which includes the drug probation department of the Akron Municipal Court and the Oriana House and meets with the judge on a daily basis.
"It's pretty intensive stuff," Hoover said.
Sanctions can be imposed on program participants. Some of the sanctions could include partial jail time or other options open to the judge aside from implementing the original sentence.
After an offender successfully completes the program there are several options open to the judges.
"Depending on how successful the person is we can do anything from dismiss the charge, reduce the charge, reduce the fines and costs or anything we think is appropriate, depending on their level of success," Hoover said. "If one person completes the program, it is a success. It means that person has cleaned up their life and has rid themselves of a totally life-disabling addiction. If we get any type of a success rate we are happy, and if we get a complete success rate we will be thrilled."
According to Hoover the program is a good addition to the Stow Municipal Courts.
"Heroin addicts do not just come out of Akron. They're living everywhere," Hoover said.
Hoover added while the program may be cost efficient to run, there is another important reason to have it.
"It saves money, but more importantly it saves lives," Hoover said.
For additional information about Akron Municipal Court's Recovery Court, contact 330-375-2760.