County doesn’t have drug court

Published 10:37 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

This just in – Lawrence County has a drug court.

I knew nearly every county in Ohio had a court specifically designed to assist low-level drug offenders. But I didn’t know one existed in Ironton. That’s a huge surprise.

I’ve sat on Judge William Marshall’s drug court in Scioto County with others who work in corrections and treatment. I’ve witnessed the weekly court proceedings. I’ve listened in meetings prior to drug court, with the judge as an active participant, as those tasked with overseeing drug offenders report on their progress.

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And I’ve observed the offenders reporting that progress, or lack thereof, to the judge once formal court operations commence. Offenders follow a phase level for advancement through the yearlong process. A graduation ceremony is held upon completion.

Beginners report every week. Some are in treatment facilities, but most are living in society under community control. They report to probation, are drug tested often and are assisted with finding employment, housing, and anything else they need to avoid becoming a statistic.

I’ve never heard of such a program in Lawrence County.

According to Ironton Municipal Judge Clark Collins, his court has operated a drug court for years.

Collins, speaking in Burlington on Thursday during a Meet the Candidates gathering, stated his court has operated in this manner for the past two decades.

Then he described sentencing people to local drug treatment facilities. This isn’t drug court. This is simply passing judgment. There is no team of professionals in Judge Collins’s court on a weekly basis attempting to assist offenders to overcome addiction and help them hurdle barriers.

Offenders aren’t brought into the court weekly to report on progress.

A drug court is designed specifically for drug offenders, hands-on, with community stakeholders present to assist low-level offenders in breaking the chains of this destructive disease.

During the question/answer period following the presentations, Kathy Ross, an employee of Riverside Recovery Services in Chesapeake, told the judge she spent six years in Marysville Prison due to her addiction and conviction in Lawrence County. She stated she had never heard of a drug court in this county and asked the judge pointed questions regarding the operation of his drug court.

He answered with vague references to the people he has helped, stating the enormous emotions experienced when an offender hugs and thanks him for saving his/her life. Then he continued in filibuster mode, never specifically answering Ross’ question.

He then cautioned against accepting state assistance for drug courts, alluding the stipulations were too cumbersome.

Again, Lawrence County is one of the few counties in Ohio without a drug court. Obviously, the stipulations aren’t so cumbersome for most of the state’s other 87 counties.

Every candidate for every office is pining about the need for effective drug treatment approaches in Lawrence County, as they should be.

But why does it always take an election year to bring certain incumbents into public view to discuss issues they have witnessed, and not fixed, for, in this case, 35 years?

Andy Ballard, Collins’ younger opponent in the upcoming common pleas judge race, provided Ross with a detailed plan, expanding on the ideas he presented earlier in the evening. He further noted the judges he has contacted in counties who run drug courts. He never filibustered.

He answered directly.

I’m not calling anyone a liar, but I’m certain I just witnessed an incumbent attempt to take ownership of a hot-button issue in this election by making misleading claims in a public forum.

Lawrence County desperately needs a change of leadership. Too many of us are not informed and will vote on name recognition alone.

Please look around. Where has that approach gotten us?

If you have a family member who struggles with addiction, listen to Andy Ballard’s plan. It’s a plan that should have been implemented here years ago….and would have saved many of our younger adults from being collared with felonies and serving life-altering prison terms.


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