'It's very good and it’s making a difference'

Zoe Greszler • Updated Sep 17, 2018 at 7:00 AM

The local court has a new program that hopefully will help those suspects facing drug charges get the help they need a little sooner. 

Huron County Common Pleas Court started working on the voluntary pre-trial supervision program in late April. Now a few months underway, with retired Norwalk Police Chief Dave Light at the helm, it’s already seen some success in helping get those suffering from addiction into the needed treatment sooner. Officials also said it has given Judge Jim Conway a basis on which to base a sentence, should the individual be found guilty of the related drug charges. 

Last year, the court was issued a $300,000 award to be paid over three years after it agreed to become a TCAP county.

“That means that we would not send felony-five offenders to prison,” Conway said, referring to defendants convicted of fifth-degree felonies.

The award has provided funding for the program and two other projects led by the court.

“The idea of the TCAP program is to keep people from going to prison and to help them in their rehabilitation. One of the ideas that I had was if we could get people into treatment sooner, then when I see them in court; then that would be good certainly if they get the help in recovery as early as possible,” Conway said.

Via pre-trial supervision, those defendants charged with a low-level drug trafficking or possession charges are given the options, resources and help they need to continue to be successful in the program of their choice to hopefully gain the mastery over their addiction. The program is done on a voluntary basis. 

“We can’t order them into treatment at that point,” Conway said.

“The pre-trial supervision is only for conditions of bond. They’re not ordered into treatment; they volunteer to go. It’s not a requirement. If they’re ordered to have a test to see whether they’re abusing drugs, they do have to report for the test — but that’s always been the case. If they test positive, then they could be found in violation of their bond and be returned to the jail.”

Getting people into treatment sooner rather than later helps save lives and increases their chances of a successful completion of a treatment program, the judge said. This is of special concern for Conway since he said the process can take anywhere up to nine months after posting bond before someone is in court. That means leaves a lot of time for someone to continue using and violate their parole or to attempt to battle addiction on their own. 

“The sooner we can get them to seek help, the better,” Conway said, adding it shows an attitude that could help reduce sentencing as well, or even to avoid a conviction all together. 

“For me then, when I get them here for an arraignment, which would be the next step in the process, if they’re in treatment or have shown a willingness to do so and don’t have and record in the past, then we have a program called treatment in lieu of conviction and that would appear they could be good candidates for that. We then could have them sign a waiver and have them begin that process. We’ll have this continuum of treatment. If they complete that program they won’t have a conviction if they do it successfully,” Conway said.

“It’s a way for them to improve their job chances in the future and a way for them to stay away from a conviction and the penalty that goes along with that.”

Defendants placed on treatment in lieu can avoid having a conviction on their record if they don’t violate the terms of their probation.

The TCAP monies provide the needed funds to cover drug testing associated with the program as well as a contract with Senior Enrichment Services that provides a transportation option for anyone in the program needing transportation to treatment anywhere in the county. The transportation to treatment is provided at little or no cost.

Conway said when he first began thinking of starting the program in Huron County, Light was the first person to come to mind.

“Dave’s really taken the program by the reins and got it rocking and rolling for us,” the judge said. “He’s really very skilled individual with talking with individuals, helping them to explore options with him, to be free and open with him. They won’t go over the case, he’s just helping them with whether to do or don’t want treatment.”

Light, who retired in February, said he thinks his experience has been an asset in the new position and they’ve already seen some measure of success.

“If I didn’t believe in the program, I wouldn’t have taken the job,” he said.

“A lot of people assume that because they’re addicts that they’re the lower end of society, but that’s not true. These people are certified commercial welders, certified commercial electricians, registered nurses. They are talented people (who) catch a case and end up getting caught in something and become an addict. They don’t want to be. They want to return to as normal of a life that they can. They’re very smart people a lot of them.

“It’s been fascinating doing this. I love it. It’s very good and it’s making a difference,” Light added.

Of the 68 people referred to the program, 31 were referred to treatment, a number both Light and Conway feel good about. 

“They’ve all said it’s a great program. Not one person so far has been upset about it,” Light said. 

The judge agreed.

“That’s about half of those referred,” Conway said. “That’s pretty good. The people I’ve talked to said they were happy for the program. They’re getting a lot of value out of it, so the initial results have been very positive.

“In the global scheme of things, it’s really a chance for them to help themselves and for us to give them the information to help them to get there.”

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