GALLIPOLIS — As the ending third of a series discussing Gallia 2017 crime fighting statistics, Gallia Common Pleas Judge Margaret Evans recently reflected on the state of her probation department.
According to information provided by the court and previously published by Ohio Valley Publishing, the Gallia County Common Pleas Court Probation Department enrolled 98 new probation cases in 2017. Of the 98 new cases, 74 were directly sentenced by the court to probation. Six offenders were granted judicial release and assigned to probation upon their release. Eighteen offenders were supervised through probation while they engaged in the statutory mechanism called “Intervention in Lieu of Conviction.”
The Gallia County Common Pleas Drug Court was established in June of 2017, when the Court was awarded formal certification of the program from The Supreme Court of Ohio. The certification recognizes that the program meets the State and Court standards for drug courts in Ohio.
The drug court is a program designed to emphasize treatment as an alternative to incarceration. The program provides, for certain offenders, the opportunity to engage in closely monitored rehabilitation instead of prison. The monitoring is done by the probation department.
The goals of the drug court include reducing substance use and related criminal activity, holding drug dependent offenders accountable for their actions and decisions, providing resources and support to assist the drug dependent offenders in the acquisition of skills necessary for the maintenance of sobriety and rewarding positive life changes while maintaining accountability for negative conduct.
Program participants enter an intensive four phase treatment program scheduled to last a minimum of one year. Participants attend counseling groups, 12-step meetings, individual counseling, and case management sessions. They also have regularly scheduled court appearances and provide random urine samples. In most cases, upon successful completion of treatment, the participant will graduate from the program and either be removed from probation or moved to a less restrictive term of probation.
The drug court currently supervises 16 offenders in its half year of existence and are expected to increase.
“We’re not here to discuss numbers the same way the sheriff or the prosecutor does because the court is a different type of entity,” said Evans. “The place we feel we can make a difference for our community is in probation and in how we sentence…If you add the prison commitments and the 53 CBCFs of the number of people we’ve dealt with or sentenced, nearly 75 percent of them are going someplace, either to prison or a CBCF. If they go to a CBCF, then they are going to a halfway house afterwards and coming back generally on probation. There is always an exception but it’s a minor number of people who don’t come back to drug court.”
Evans said a CBCF was considered a lockdown inpatient rehabilitation facility. The contract with Ohio and while a lockdown, it has a focus in programming to face addiction and to get treatment and learn job skills. Typically they are fourth and fifth-degree felony offenders. The common pleas court sentenced 53 defendants to commitment in CBCFs in 2017, as part of their probation sentence.
“(Drug court participants) meet with me on the first level once a week and then for the next two levels, which could encompass six months, meet them every other week,” said Evans. “That doesn’t count any time they spend in probation and treatment in any of their groups or special treatment they get, if they need mental (health treatment) or trauma. We feel that is helping by keeping people who have an addiction and in the criminal justice system engaged with us and moving forward.”
The court and its probation department, according to Evans’ report, recently implemented a pretrial services monitoring program which balances the defendant’s right to pretrial release with the court’s concern that the defendant not endanger the public and that the defendant appears in court as required.
Prior to the arraignment of a defendant charged with a felony, a probation officer gathers and verifies important background information about the defendant, such as any criminal record and danger risk, the defendant’s record for failing to appear, as well as the defendant’s residential stability and history of substance abuse. Some of the information is obtained by the probation officer in an actual interview with the defendant.
Based upon the investigation findings, the Pretrial Services prepares a report that is provided to the Court and assesses the defendant’s suitability for pretrial release. The report helps the Court make an informed decision concerning the release or detention of the defendant. The goal of the Pretrial Services process is to recommend to the Court the least restrictive conditions of bond that will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court and that pose no danger to the community. The defendant is released on bond and must comply with court restrictions placed on them as a condition of their release from incarceration.
The court has also upgraded its software to more efficiently process and track probationer information along with adding a kiosk check-in system. The probation office has increased its usage of house arrest electronic devices to insure some offenders remain locked down at their homes.
According to a probation report, on December 31, 2017, the Gallia County Common Pleas Court Probation Department was supervising 193 cases of probation. This reflects a 33 percent increase in probation supervision cases from 2016, which numbered at 145. Of the current number of individuals in the probation program, 125 are male and 68 are female. Of those numbers, two cases involved domestic violence, two sex offenses, seven were other violent offenses, 59 were property offenses, 74 were drug offenses, four were motor vehicle intoxication offenses and other offenses totaled at 45. Around 285 pretrial services were completed in 2017.