Xenia municipal court judge hopes to open mental health/drug court

Aug 15 – Xenia may be next on the list of Ohio cities to implement a combined mental health and drug court, working to find alternative ways to address drug and alcohol-related crimes, reduce recidivism and address the homelessness in the city.

The Xenia Mental Health and Drug Court would offer alternative prosecution of cases for drug-related offences. Courts often partner with organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Hamilton-based behavioral health organization TLC for addiction treatment and support services, such as housing, transportation, child care, job training, or obtaining documents such as a driver’s license.

The Ohio Supreme Court must approve any court request seeking to start a mental health or drug court. Xenia Municipal Court Judge David McNamee said Xenia plans to file her application in the next 60 to 90 days, after which it may take six months for the Supreme Court to approve.

A combined mental health and drug court works because the two issues often go hand in hand, McNamee said. Significant substance abuse, especially at younger ages, can be a trigger for many mental health problems later in life, research shows.

Reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicate that approximately 50% of people with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse, while 37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.

“You can’t help but see the effects substance abuse has on people’s lives,” McNamee said. “My opinion is that we have a better opportunity for intervention here. Because these are misdemeanors, we usually get younger people and people who are just starting to interact with the legal system.”

Having a specialized drug and mental health file can also help address homelessness in Xenia by getting to some of the root causes. Those without refuge often end up in the Xenia Municipal Court for minor offences, but are more likely to reoffend because their situation has not changed.

“The most common crime you see homeless is breaking and entering,” said Xenia Court Administrator Steve Pierson. “So if that person goes back out and is back on the street, the next time it’s cold, the next time it’s snowing, the next time it’s raining, that person may find themselves somewhere they shouldn’t be.” . . And you get a revolving door.”

Participation in a specialized docket also provides access to federal housing assistance and other material resources that may make defendants less likely to reoffend.

“I firmly believe that no one sat down in high school and said, ‘I aspire to be homeless in Xenia, Ohio,'” McNamee said. “Homelessness is not the problem. Homelessness is a byproduct of people who have mental health issues, people who have inflicted hardship on their own lives by the choices they have made.”

The Ohio Supreme Court allows courts to implement so-called alternative dockets focused on addiction, mental health, housing, veterans’ courts, and others. Ohio currently has 41 mental health courts and 121 drug courts, with a total of 262 alternative dockets.

Fairborn Municipal Court, which serves the other half of Greene County, is one such drug court. Uses alcohol, drug, or mental health intervention and treatment as an alternative to traditional case processing. In 2021, Fairborn had four successful drug court completions, two unsuccessful completions, and there are currently five active drug court participants, according to its annual report.

To enroll in drug court, the defendant must generally plead guilty, follow through with their treatment plan, and may also be required to pay attorney’s fees or restitution to victims. At the end of the program, the defendant may walk away with a significantly reduced charge or no charge at all.

If the defendant decides, through words or actions, that they don’t want to continue with the program, then they are charged with the crime normally, McNamee said.

“It’s not a soft approach to crime,” McNamee said. “We see repeat offenders all the time. We see repeat offenders and they do the same things over and over again, and they’re not being educated. So the point of this is to educate people, try to understand what it is that they’re dealing with, and then give them the tools to be able to deal with these issues that come up.