MOUNT VERNON — Knox County Common Pleas Court will start the county’s second drug court in January.
Common Pleas Judge Richard Wetzel said the court, a nine-month program, will give felony offenders the tools they need to get sober and live a life free of substance abuse. It may be coupled with other court programs and sanctions, catching the individual at a time when drug court can best serve them.
Wetzel has named the program ARMOR court, an acronym for Alternative Rehabilitation Making Offenders Responsible.
The drug court comes about two years after Judge John Thatcher established a drug court in Mount Vernon Municipal Court.
The best candidates for the court are individuals who are ready to get sober, but need a more restrictive level of supervision to get there. It sits between outpatient treatment where the probationer is getting along with a treatment program on their own with a little supervision, and intensive residential treatment, where the entire day is spent attending recovery classes and groups in a live-in facility.
Wetzel said residential treatment and probation will still be options, and participation in drug court may come before, after, or in between other programs.
The court has been in the works for more than a year, Common Pleas Chief Probation Officer Lisa Lyons said. It will follow a roughly nine month schedule in four phases, with the drug court graduate actively living their treatment plan and engaging in a sober lifestyle.
The phases start with orientation and assessment. The participant must pass a drug screen, but some exceptions can be made if the participant is going through detox, Lyons said. The next two phases get the drug court participant into treatment programs, secure employment, housing and sober leisure activities.
Along the way, participants will be required to take random drug screens. Successful completion of drug court is the goal, but sanctions can be brought along the way and the unsuccessful participant may be terminated from the program.
The drug court will meet weekly. A typical day will begin with the court’s treatment team going over each participant’s case individually. The case reviews will help Wetzel determine what kind of conversation he will have with the participant when drug court meets later that day.
When drug court meets, Wetzel will still be the judge, but will have more interaction with the participant than he would in a normal court hearing. Wetzel said interaction among the participants will be an important piece of the court.
“I’m looking forward to how other participants respond,” Wetzel said. “Part of the court is kind of a group accountability exercise. The group is a team as well. They will look at each other as accountability partners and support partners.”
Lyons said much of the staff needed for drug court is in place, hired through grants previously received by the court. The drug court will have a limited number of participants to start, but Wetzel said there may be up to 30 participants by the end of 2019.
“We want to be careful getting going, where everyone is comfortable with their role,” Wetzel said. “The focus is to make it a program where people can succeed, not hit a certain number and risk everyone failing.”
The court has received its initial certification from the Ohio Supreme Court and will be reviewed by them in March.