Nearly $50,000 in grant funding could help Reynoldsburg launch a recovery court.
Reynoldsburg City Council on Feb. 10 heard the first reading of legislation that, if approved, will accept $49,842 from the Franklin County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board (ADAMH) to support the city's first specialized docket aimed at low-level offenses motivated, at least in part, by drug or alcohol addiction.
Reynoldsburg's recovery court will provide a "non-adversarial approach to defendants who are diagnosed with substance abuse disorder and will address the needs of defendants with substance abuse disorders who face criminal charges by establishing effective treatment as an alternative to incarceration, improving quality of life, and increasing the safety of the community by providing court oversight and linking defendants to appropriate treatment and service providers," according to the legislation.
Council is expected to vote on the legislation at its next meeting March 9.
"ADAMH has agreed to provide an annual grant to the city in the amount of just more than $49,000," city attorney Chris Shook said. "The purpose and use of that money will be to hire a program coordinator, pay a magistrate to oversee the court ... and to fund the use of a public defender on a monthly basis to be part of our treatment team."
Money also will be used to pay for drug and alcohol testing.
The city could incur additional costs once the program is running, but Shook said that is to be determined.
The program coordinator would come in once a week to operate "essentially as a probation officer for these individuals," Shook said.
Reynoldsburg holds mayor's court on Thursdays and typically hears cases involving traffic violations, theft and property-code violations, Shook said.
Launching a recovery court was among Shook's priorities when he campaigned for office last year.
Recovery court would be for offenses like theft, OVI, and possession of drugs, drug-abuse instruments or paraphernalia, he said.
"We've never had a recovery court in Reynoldsburg before," Shook said. "We're trying to reform the way that we approach mayor's court.
"In cooperation, our chief of police and with our mayor, we have instituted a new policy for what kinds of charges we are sending to mayor's court and what kind of charges we are sending to municipal court, to ensure that we are bringing more non-violent crime locally. Violent crime is going into municipal court, where jail as a punitive measure is much more likely."
In general, all misdemeanor criminal and traffic offenses will be filed in mayor's court, with the exception of crimes like aggravated theft, domestic violence or other offenses of violence like assault, menacing or stalking.
The police department is "fully on board with the prosecutor's plan," chief David Plesich said.
"We do see way more opioids in the city than we want to. We like to treat the user as a victim and get them help. It absolutely breaks my heart that people are dying in this city over drugs."
Reynoldsburg police responded to 60 drug overdose calls in 2019, up from 48 in 2018, according to the department's annual report.
Seven of the overdoses in 2019 were fatal.
Shook said Reynoldsburg would model its recovery court after other suburban operations, including Upper Arlington and Hilliard.
Hilliard used ADAMH grant funds to help start its recovery court last year.
He expects Reynoldsburg's recovery court to be operational by April, with seven to 10 participants in the first year. For most participants, the program would last 24 months with progressive phases of testing and monitoring.
"We want to be able to give them enough individualized attention. We aren't here to punish them, but we are here to hold them accountable," Shook said.
"This will be a work in progress. I am cognizant of how careful we need to be in the implementation of this program to maximize its potential for success. The first year or two will be very important to our funding for the program, confidence in city administration and council in the program and constituent support for the program.
"At the same time, we have to be aware of how we can put too much pressure on participants who are already putting a lot of pressure on themselves. So while their success will be vital to the program's success, we will work to ensure that we are not exerting anymore external pressure on them than is appropriate."