NIMBY hurting addicts

Published 10:33 am Thursday, April 7, 2016

If you’re interested in alleviating the drug epidemic in Ohio, tune your soul in to what Gary Mohr has been preaching for years.

Prison does not rehabilitate drug offenders.

Interestingly, Mohr is the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He’s the last person anyone would expect to be against sending someone to prison, right?

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Monday afternoon, Mohr was a guest speaker at STAR Community Justice Center in Franklin Furnace. Thanks to his assistance, the STAR behavior modification program, which consists mostly of drug offenders, moved, literally next door, into the facility formerly known as the Ohio River Valley Correctional Facility. ORV once housed violent youth offenders, but was shut down by the state in 2011.

On Monday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by STAR Executive Director Eddie Philabaun featured Mohr and his unique, inspiring perspectives.

“Do you know what today is?” he asked, as he always does when engaging a crowd. “A great day to be alive,” responded several of the onlookers who have heard the energetic, impassioned director speak in the past. He opens every speech with this question.

Then he moves on to answers.

“I believe people deserve second chances,” he said. “I believe in redemption. I don’t believe prisons are the best method to treat drug addicted Ohioans.”

He spoke of the need to change our thinking and our policies.

“We are rewriting the entire criminal code of this state,” he said, noting many facets of our current legal code handcuff judges and do not allow for common sense sentencing.

And, as he always promises, to the approval of those in the treatment field, “I won’t build another prison.”

“A six-month sentence can be a life sentence,” the director said. “Ask (anyone with a felony) who is trying to get a job.

“This facility will change the lives of the people who go through it.”

Approximately 200 people showed up at the STAR ribbon-cutting ceremony. The facility is the largest community based correctional facility in the state, possibly in the nation. State Representative Terry Johnson followed Mohr and seconded his perspectives.

Local officials such as Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson and sheriff Jeff Lawless were in attendance.

Director Mohr praised Anderson during his speech and noted his desire to assist the prosecutor in creating ways to divert drug offenders from prison.

The ceremony was much more than a ceremony. It was the culmination of years of behind-the-scenes work to create something truly unique in the treatment world.

Ohio is leading the charge in educating versus incarcerating drug offenders.

And the charge is led by a prison director.

And then, on the very same day, this happened:

A village council meeting in Chesapeake put the spotlight on the resistance director Mohr has likely encountered while preaching treatment over prison.

Amy Smart, a recovering addict and former Marysville prisoner who recently opened (and already expanded) a treatment facility in Chesapeake named Riverside Recovery Services, was publicly blasted by the village mayor, council members, and other citizens for trying to help people fight addiction.

The acronym NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) ran through my mind as I read Heath Harrison’s account of the meeting in Tuesday’s Tribune. Mr. Harrison also covered and wrote about the STAR open house, where I was present, and was spot-on with his accuracy. So, I have no doubt his reporting is true.

In Harrison’s account, verified to me by friends who attended the meeting, Chesapeake Mayor Tommy Templeton and village resident Robert Cochrane clothed themselves with an attitude of judgment that director Mohr is fighting to defeat. If you’ve not read the story, type “Treatment house criticized” into the Tribune search bar.

Interestingly, once the duo grilled Mrs. Smart for opening a treatment house to help addicts, Cochrane recommended allowing alcohol sales in the village restaurants and gas stations.

Templeton blamed Smart’s recovery house for diverting his attention from more pressing matters. He claimed he didn’t know her business had located in Chesapeake.

The entire meeting seemed to focus on fear instead of progress, which is not unusual, especially in small communities.

Addicts live in Chesapeake. They live in Proctorville, Ironton, South Point, Coal Grove, Pedro and every other township, village and city in Ohio. We can assume the mindset that all of them need to go to prison. And judges can send them to prison — but only for a brief period of time.

One thing, however, is absolutely certain: These people, once released from prison, are coming back to our communities. While in prison, they learn better manipulation tactics and how to be more savvy criminals.


Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at