NEW LEXINGTON – The highly successful New Direction Drug Court of the Perry County Municipal Court has earned final certification from the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Specialized Dockets. The current certification will keep the New Direction Drug Court running through Dec. 31, 2023.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor congratulated the Perry County Municipal Court and Judge Dean L. Wilson for receiving final certification. She also defined what a specialized docket entails in her congratulatory note to the New Direction Drug Court personnel.

“Specialized dockets divert offenders toward criminal justice initiatives that employ tools and tailored services to treat and rehabilitate the offender so they can become productive members of society,” explained the chief justice. “Studies have shown this approach works by reducing recidivism while saving tax dollars.”

Currently, there are over 210 specialized dockets in Ohio courts that deal with difficult issues such as mental health, domestic violence, and human trafficking as well as drugs and alcohol abuse.

The Ohio Supreme Court has a checklist of standards that a drug court must accomplish in order to receive certification. These standards include the number of participants in the drug court, types of services offered, and drug/alcohol counseling.

Because the Ohio Supreme Court constantly updates these standards, a program like New Direction Drug Court must be ready to adapt their practices no matter how successful they have been in the past. Jordan Hollingshead, New Direction’s specialized docket coordinator, explained the lengthy process to receive certification.

“We started working on having the program recertified in July 2020 and had it ready around mid-December 2020,” detailed Hollingshead.

The New Direction Drug Court meets with their clients every Wednesday to drug test, discuss employment opportunities, and do a general review of the progress or lack thereof taking place with each individual.

It was one of these sessions that the Ohio Supreme Court Justices viewed via Zoom technology to evaluate the four-step program each participant must complete to reach Drug Court graduation.

Once a participant has accomplished all four steps of the program, they have fulfilled their obligation to the courts. As difficult as it may seem, Judge Wilson didn’t see “eye-to-eye” with that policy. He compares that policy as being similar to foster care that releases its clients at age 18 without regard to where a former foster child goes once they become a legal adult at age 18.

“Each phase in our four-step program takes about three to four months to complete, but we realize setbacks will occur,” explained Judge Wilson. “I disagree with the Supreme Court’s policy of cutting ties with our graduates so we have instituted a step down follow-up plan for our graduates.” This step-down program includes two drug tests following graduation and can also impose an extended probation period.

The judge believes the immediate post-drug court graduation time is critical for those completing the program to remain drug-free. The Ohio Supreme Court wanted to conduct an overview of the Perry County Drug Court’s step-down program to evaluate its value. However, Judge Wilson told them that since they have no authority over a post-graduate step-down plan, there was no need for them to view it.

When the Supreme Court conducted the recertification notice via a Zoom presentation, only one drug court participated.

“We were the only drug court to join the Zoom presentation because I was ready to defend our position on the step-down program,” chuckled Judge Wilson. His preparation proved needless because the Ohio Supreme Court did not challenge his decision.

After covering the recertification aspect of the interview, Judge Wilson and Jordan Hollingshead offered a detailed look at how the New Direction Drug Court operates. Hollingshead described the early years of the drug court as averaging 40-45 participants in the program. There are currently 23 individuals in the program. Each one has a spreadsheet page where a detailed track record on their performance in the drug court is recorded. With the touch of the keyboard, Hollingshead can immediately see exactly how an individual is performing in the program.

New Direction Drug Court has a 19-band testing program in place which means they can test for 19 different drugs a person might be using. If a testing discrepancy occurs, Judge Wilson said that a hair follicle sample is sent to a lab in Lancaster for confirmation.

So how successful is the New Direction Drug Court? Hollingshead reports a success rate of 83% for participants who have graduated or still in the program.

“Our employment rate stands around 75%, and many of those in the 25% category are on disability or simply cannot work,” stated Hollingshead.

Judge Wilson heaped plenty of praise for these success rates on the employers in Perry County who have given New Direction grads a second chance.

“Our success rate on the employment establishes a degree of self-esteem that many of our participants lacked,” describes Judge Wilson. He recognized Cooper Standard, Wendy’s, Creno’s, and Dave’s Feed & Seed among the many businesses who have stepped up for drug court graduates.

The judge believes the 19-band test is a major reason for businesses to hire the graduates because their own company drug testing abilities cannot match the number of bands being tested by the drug court.

Judge Wilson has an acute awareness that the success of New Direction Drug Court is a direct result of the staff working for him at the Municipal Court.

“It’s like when Coach Wooden tossed the basketball to Gail Goodrich and said ‘go shoot if you’re so good’,” recalled Judge Wilson. Of course, when Goodrich realized he could not inbound the basketball to himself, the team concept for success was quickly learned.

The same applies the team Judge Wilson has assembled at the New Direction Drug Court. In addition to Hollingshead, those individuals are: Chief Probation Officer Brad Agriesti, Intensive Probation Officer Kristin Browning, Court Administrators Kim Cheney/Christie Hampton, Hopewell Health Center, Integrated Services, All-Well Behavioral Health, Perry Behavioral Health Choices, and Pickaway Area Recovery Services.

Nobody works harder to prevent the heartbreaking overdose deaths still occurring in Perry County than the team Judge Wilson has assembled at the New Direction Drug Court. Jordan Hollingshead reports that 10 participants in the program are due to become graduates this coming June.

A New Direction Drug Court graduation is so much more than a ceremony signifying a successful program completion. It’s more a rebirth experience for individuals who have traveled a self-destructive path, but survived.

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