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Experts help in drug cases



Published: Mon, May 7, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Case managers ensure that defendants are referred into appropriate programs.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- When judges in Mahoning County needed a link between the courts and the substance abuse treatment community, Treatment Alternatives to Street Crimes was up to the task.

TASC is a private, nonprofit program that started in 1998, said M. Kurt Welsh, executive director.

It provides case management and intense supervision for drug- and alcohol-dependent people who are receiving court-ordered treatment for substance abuse.

The agency serves all courts in the county, including common pleas, area courts and municipal courts, and is open to both misdemeanor and felony offenders, Welsh said. It also performs assessments for people seeking admission into the common pleas drug court.

TASC's purpose is to provide the courts with an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offenders with alcohol and drug problems. It screens offenders and refers them into appropriate treatment facilities or programs, Welsh said.

TASC does not provide treatment services itself, which makes it able to offer independent, objective studies and referrals, said Judge Jack Durkin of common pleas court.

"They don't refer clients into their own programs, so there is no conflict of interest," Judge Durkin said. "They provide a great link that previously did not exist."

The old way: In the past, offenders who were ordered by the courts to enter treatment programs were monitored by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Judge Durkin said. That agency, though, lacked the clinical expertise to decide which program the offender should join.

"That's where TASC is so valuable, because they are certified drug dependency experts," he said.

David L. Schaffer, executive director of the county Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, said that expertise is vital in ensuring that defendants receive the proper level of treatment.

"When you have a large number of treatment providers, someone has to be able to take an objective look at them and decide which one is best for an individual," Schaffer said. "TASC bridges that gap between the courts and the treatment community."

Welsh said TASC has agreements with treatment agencies in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties. Clients are referred into those agencies based on their level of need and their geographical location, he said.

Who's eligible: To qualify, offenders must be proved to have past or current chemical dependence and must agree to comply with all program and court directives.

People charged with violent or sex-related crimes are not eligible. Those charged with weapons violations or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are also not permitted to enter the program, Welsh said.

Once offenders are entered into a treatment program or facility, TASC monitors their progress and makes reports to the sentencing court to ensure that they comply with court orders. That sort of follow-up wasn't being done before TASC's involvement, Schaffer said.

Welsh said that's largely because of the low number of probation officers assigned to monitor the cases.

He said Youngstown Municipal Court has five officers to monitor some 2,500 probationers, and there are three officers to keep track of about 3,000 people on probation from the area courts in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring.

Some offenders are denied referral to treatment agencies after screening because TASC doesn't think treatment will be effective.

"Some of them don't have a diagnosable or treatable disorder," he said.

He said some people try to abuse the alternative sentencing system by repeatedly seeking placement in treatment programs. There comes a time when the system has to stop supporting their cycle of behavior and they need to go to jail, he said.

"There are treatment programs available in jail. They can get help there," Welsh said.




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