Judicial candidates tout programs to help offenders improve lives

Phil Keren
Akron Beacon Journal

Stow Municipal Court Judges Lisa Coates and Kim Hoover both say they have programs to help offenders improve their lives.

Coates and Hoover are facing off in the May 4 Republican Primary Election for Coates' seat.

On Thursday evenings, Hoover said he conducts courses with offenders on subjects such as substance abuse, theft and social responsibility, and violence impact — the last of which is offered to victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and other violent crimes. He noted he created the courses.

The offenders attending the classes are on probation and pay a probation fee to participate. After paying the guest speakers, Hoover said there is still money left over which is applied toward helping to cover the court's operating deficit.

Though the classes happen in the courthouse, he emphasized he is not acting as a judge at those times.

"We're here as fellow citizens trying to help," Hoover said. "That's how I start it off. When I show up, I'm in jeans. I say, 'I guess I'm still Judge Hoover, but we're not here to judge you."

Hoover said he delivers lectures and also has guest speakers such as attorneys, addiction counselors, support group leaders, professors and even a comedian share their knowledge and experience.

Hoover noted he receives letters constantly from people who say their lives were changed by the classes.

Coates started a mental health court — called Successful Treatment Results in Developing Excellence (STRIDE) — in 2010 and has served as the presiding judge ever since. She noted she receives grant money, primarily from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to fund the program.

In her early years on the court, Coates said, there were a few men who regularly appeared on various offenses and she noted "it was clear" they had mental health issues.  

As the offenses accumulated, some people would have to go to jail, but Coates said, "jail wasn't fixing the problem. [In] probation, we didn't really know how to address the problem very well."

The 24-month program is set up for people who were convicted of a crime that is a jailable offense, and who, Coates said, have a "severe, persistent mental illness that treatment would help get them back on track."

Every Thursday, Coates said she meets with the probation officer, coordinator, case worker, and a psychiatrist.

"We go through everybody [who is in the program] and we talk about how they're all doing, and where they need to be working on things," Coates said.

After the meeting with the treatment team, Coates said she visits with the participants to see if they are taking their medication and going to their doctor's appointments. Other life components such as employment and relationships are also discussed.

"We're here to help and try to get them back on track," Coates said.