By Ed Runyan
Much like the adult drug court operating in Trumbull County, officials are completing work to start a juvenile drug court this spring.
Juvenile Drug Court at the county juvenile court initially will accept five to 10 people who meet certain criteria — generally nonviolent repeat offenders.
They will have underlying substance-abuse issues that have contributed to their behavior and seem capable of being rehabilitated.
“It’s to engage them in treatment and comprehensive services to break this cycle now,” said Judge Sandra Stabile Harwood, one of the two judges at the combined family and juvenile court.
“With all of these programs, the hope is to keep them out” of the Ohio Department of Youth Services’ four juvenile prisons, Judge Pam Rintala said. If the offender stays out of juvenile prison or county detention, he or she also might stay out of the adult criminal-justice system, the judges added.
As in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court’s drug court for adults, the juvenile offenders will report once per week. In the juvenile drug court, they will talk to substance-abuse and mental-health counselors, a Trumbull County Children Services representative, a probation officer and Juvenile Court Magistrate Monte Horton. It will last one year, and they will be subject to random drug screens to make them accountable.
It also will be similar to the adult drug court in that those who successfully complete the program will have the offense that brought them to juvenile court removed from their record.
Where it differs from adult drug court is that the juvenile’s parents will be expected to participate and will have counseling available to them also, Judge Stabile Harwood said.
“So many of the young substance abusers have parents who have substance- abuse problems, too, so we need to break that cycle, too,” Judge Rintala said.
“We want a family that is going to be 100 percent involved. It’s going to take everyone,” Horton added.
Judge Stabile Harwood said she has seen the effectiveness of similar types of treatment that have been offered to families in the family court’s dependency treatment court in the past four years.
“So many people say [they have] never seen so many people who care about them,” StabileHarwood said of the family court’s dependency treatment court, which helps parents with chemical-dependency issues reunite with their children.
The judges say the need for a juvenile drug court has existed for a long time. The program is starting now because the family court recently received a one-year, renewable Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant from the federal government, and because other money is available through Reclaim Ohio funds the court receives to continue the program if the grant isn’t renewed.
Reclaim Ohio funds are provided by the state based on the number of juveniles in each county that have gone through the court system, minus money spent to place Trumbull County juveniles in state lockups.
Denise O’Shaughnessy was promoted in January from corrections officer at the juvenile court’s detention center to probation officer and juvenile drug court administrator.
She will file the court’s application with the Ohio Supreme Court in the coming week to certify the juvenile drug court, and she hopes the court will open by late April.
Sixty to 70 percent of juveniles facing criminal charges have substance-abuse issues, Horton said.
“If you can curtail a percentage of that 60 percent, it’s money well invested,” he said. “Our job is to get the kids back to where they need to be — productive members of society.”