For Jason Stefaniak, completing the requirements of drug court was a life-changing experience.
“I was a heroin addict, and this program helped me get clean and get my life back on track,” said Stefaniak, who is now a horse-trailer salesman.
Stefaniak, 34, of Warren, was one of six people who graduated from Judge John M. Durkin’s drug court Wednesday.
Stefaniak’s graduation coincided with a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the drug court operated by the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge, for whom the courthouse rotunda celebration was a surprise.
In drug court, nonviolent offenders charged with drug-addiction-related crimes plead guilty as charged and have their charges dismissed once they complete the one-to-two-year court program.
The program requires participants to obtain a high-school diploma or GED certificate, get a job and a driver’s license if they don’t have one, attend a treatment program, submit to random drug testing and pay any restitution they owe to victims of their crimes.
“It’s a wonderful program. It gives us accountability. It makes us be responsible for our own decisions. It helps us see a better way of life,” Stefaniak said.
When he entered drug court, Stefaniak pleaded guilty before Judge Durkin to breaking and entering and possessing criminal tools in July 2012.
“I didn’t talk to my family, and I was going to lose my house,” Stefaniak said of his life before drug court. “This program helped me be accountable and made sure that I got back on my feet.”
Judge Durkin said he’s proud of drug court because of its ability to give “these people, who otherwise wouldn’t commit a crime, that do it only because of an addiction, the opportunity for a second chance.”
“To see some of our graduates come back with five, 10 or 15 years clean is why I do what I do” in presiding over drug court, the judge said.
“Drug courts work. ... We reduce recidivism [repeat criminal behavior]. We get these people to be tax-paying members of our society. They’re getting their families back,” Judge Durkin said.
Amy Klumpp, drug-court coordinator for the county’s Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, said more than 1,300 people have entered Judge Durkin’s drug court over the 15 years, with about 52 percent of them successfully completing it.
Only 9 percent of those who have completed it have been convicted of new felonies, she said.
Even among participants who don’t successfully complete that court’s program, only 21 percent get convicted of new felonies because the court has given them the recovery strategies they can use, even if they relapse into drug abuse, Klumpp said.