GALLIPOLIS — With September having been designated as “Recovery Month” by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Gallipolis Daily Tribune and Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery (CPR) checked in with the Gallipolis Municipal Court to get an update on the municipal drug court docket.
This year’s Recovery Month theme is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose, and Community,” which Municipal Judge Eric Mulford said is fitting given that the specialized docket emphasizes a community team-based approach to combating drug addictions that lead to involvement with the court system.
Mulford said that the current participants in the municipal court’s specialized dockets recently renamed the drug court ‘Recovery Court,’ symbolizing the mission of the docket while giving it a more positive connotation.
“The goal of Recovery Court is to guide the participants to long-term sobriety, and in the process to help them obtain stable housing, set educational and employment goals, develop a relapse prevention plan and form healthy relationships,” Mulford said.
Recovery Court is geared toward problem-solving in an intensive out-patient or community-based environment, and is managed by Shallon Schuldt, a court probation officer who was appointed as the specialized dockets coordinator in February 2017. Schuldt provides more intensive supervision to her clients than is possible with standard probation, while each receives comprehensive case management and treatment from licensed behavioral health providers, such as TASC of Southeast Ohio, among others. Each also appears before the judge for regular case review hearings, where incentives are offered for compliance with the program rules and sanctions are imposed for any violations.
Recovery Court is currently funded by a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, with most of the treatment funded by Medicaid. The treatment providers who may work with the court, as well as the general case plans followed by participants, are pre-approved by the Ohio Supreme Court. The judge said that he and Schuldt are selective in accepting participants, noting that only non-violent, misdemeanor-level offenders are considered for the docket, and that each must express a sincere desire to achieve sobriety and voluntarily commit to completing the four levels of the program over a period of 12 months.
Although many offenders sentenced in municipal court are evaluated for participation in Recovery Court, only around 30 individuals per year are actually approved for the program.
“It’s not for everybody,” the judge said. “We value the stability achieved within the group when only those select few who truly want to achieve recovery are working together to meet the objectives of their case plans. Placing participants into the program who don’t want to leave their criminal behavior behind would be disruptive to the few who are working so hard.”
Once a participant has been admitted into the program, his or her individualized case plan allows the option of traditional, faith-based, or medication-assisted treatment. The majority select either traditional counseling or to receive Vivitrol, a non-narcotic medication with no addictive properties, which is administered with a monthly injection that blocks brain receptors from becoming high from opiates. While medication-assisted treatment for Recovery Court clients is currently offered by a Jackson-based provider, plans are underway to bring the Gallia County Health Department on board the treatment team to streamline the delivery of those services. Those who choose faith-based treatment work with the ministries associated with Vinton Baptist Church, including the Field of Hope and Gallia Strong Tower.
Mulford, who became Gallipolis Municipal Judge in January 2017, plans to compile statistics over a three year period to document the recidivism rate of Recovery Court graduates. By December 2020, the judge hopes to have concluded whether the program has been successful in reducing recidivism.
“The national recidivism rate hovers between 46-60 percent for persons who are placed on standard probation, so I’m hoping over a three year period to see a recidivism rate lower than 10 percent for our Recovery Court graduates,” Mulford said. “At this point, from purely anecdotal evidence, I can say that I believe we will reach that goal.”
Mulford said that the lack of local detox facilities and the prevalence of opioids in the region makes specialized dockets a necessary component of the local judicial system so that those offenders who want help can get it and reintegrate into society as productive citizens.
Shane, 31, a resident of Bidwell for 21 years, graduated the court program December 2017, works third-shift as a forklift operator and said he spends the evening with his children before going back to work. He has worked with the Strong Tower program, based in Vinton Baptist Church, as he made his march to recovery from substance abuse.
“I got caught driving without a license and had several of them while Margaret Evans was still municipal judge,” said Shane. “I got my fines (settled) and got put on probation for driving under suspension and she wanted me to go through treatment. It took me a little while (to understand) why she put me in treatment for what I’d done. She said she could tell a difference in me from seeing me on the street to me coming in court. I’m not mad at her for doing it. It’s been almost two years now (since Shane has been clean)…I didn’t want it to control me because this is something I wanted. I didn’t say I need to get clean…Need ain’t going to get you anywhere. You’ve got to want it.”
Brenda, 29, is the mother of one, age nine, and has been with her husband for 11 years. She is currently going through the court program and in its third phase of four. Brenda did not start using until she was roughly 22. Her husband has never used, according to her. She had used for around seven years, on and off. She’s been clean for a little over six months.
“Me and my son actually have a relationship now,” said Brenda. “He actually knows that I’m going to be there when he gets home from school and be there when he gets up. My husband is very supportive because he sees the changes. Towards the end of my addiction before I got in trouble, I was living in a car and never seeing my son…I got an OVI actually just sitting in my driveway, so I kind of feel like that’s a miracle. They offered me help through the court program. I had actually been through the program once before in 2014 but I’d messed up. I wasn’t ready to quit. I didn’t want to quit. You have to want it. I’m in a completely different mindset than where I’ve ever been before.”
The court had at times rolled six-sided dice to determine an individual’s punishment had they failed to uphold their obligations in the program. Schuldt said the court only had to utilize the method a few times to get its point across.
“We try to be as lenient as possible and still get our point across,” said Schuldt. “If there is no consequence, your program isn’t going to be reputable. Every once in a while you have to pull the reigns in and say (straighten up), this is real life stuff. You have six months or a year of jail (or more) hanging over your head. Do you really want to risk all that? Do you want to gamble?”
Neither program participants were identified by their last names for privacy purposes.
For more information about the municipal court, contact the bailiff at (740) 446-9400, ext. 226, or check out the court’s website at www.gmcourt.org.
The CPR coalition consists of area nonprofits such as God’s Hands at Work, the Field of Hope Community Campus, as well as behavioral health organizations such as Wing Haven, Health Recovery Services, the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, the Gallia County Prosecutor’s Office, Gallipolis Neighborhood Watch, Holzer Health System, Gallipolis City Commission, the Gallia County Health Department and more. With the goal of fighting drug abuse in Gallia, the group commonly meets the second Monday of the month at noon in various rooms at Holzer Medical Center. The group can be reached at its Facebook page.
Dean Wright contributed to this article.