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Drug court gets recertified in 2022

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato shows Plexiglass barriers are no longer a part of drug court cases. The Ohio Supreme Court has certified Belmont County Drug Court for the next six months, and Fregiato said the personal connections between the judge and participants is a valuable component.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Drug Court program has remained active through the COVID-19 pandemic and through 2021, providing low-level drug offenders an opportunity for treatment, an alternative to prison and a chance for a clean record.

The Ohio Supreme Court is in the process of again certifying the drug court. The initial 2022 certification is valid through June 30. Following a viewing of a treatment team meeting by a representative from the Ohio Supreme Court, the drug court can then be recertified for another three-year period. The last certification occurred in 2019. There is no indication at this time when the site visit will be scheduled.

Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato, who runs the program, said participation and results have been good despite the pandemic.

Fregiato said he has spoken to the probation officers, and the program completion rate is high.

“We are trending positive,” Fregiato said. “We were at approximately 50 percent, so it’s going to be a little better than that.”

Treatment and counseling are offered through Crossroads Counseling Services. Fregiato said the program lasts one to three years. There are usually 20 people in the program at any one time, and this has not changed during the pandemic.

Recidivism is also an issue. Fregiato said in successful cases, participants not only complete the program but have a permanent change in behavior.

“It does with some, it doesn’t with others. It depends,” he said of the program’s success.

“Coronavirus hasn’t affected us much at all in terms of what we do, and in terms of the individual’s reaction to the program,” Fregiato said.

The judge said he does not expect numbers of drug court participants to change in the coming years. Drug court will remain both highly sought-after, but also highly demanding.

“Drug court continues to be a popular alternative, but once they get involved they find out it takes more than a year to complete and there’s a lot of hoops the individual’s got to jump through,” he said. “We’ve got to reprogram the individuals. It’s not just about the drugs, it’s about them realizing they’ve got to work for a living and things of that nature.”

Fregiato said despite the pandemic, personal stressors are not acting as an obstacle for people completing drug court or a reason to fall back into old habits.

“That has not been a problem,” he said. “The work situation has opened up. They don’t come in and complain that they can’t get a job any longer.”

Prior to 2020, the completion of a phase of drug court was usually met by applause and congratulations. Freigato said this element remains a component.

“What we’ve done in the past with the coronavirus is, we hate to interfere with the personal relationship that’s being created between the judge and the people, so we have not done much at all with the coronavirus epidemic facing the country,” he said.

“There is a personal relationship that develops, and we’d like to continue that,” he said. “We’ve been making less of a big deal about it. There’s still a lot of applause and congratulations and things of that nature, but there’s not a lot of hugging. We’ve cut that out.”

Drug court remains an open court with anyone able to come in. Participants wait in the hallway outside until called in.

Fregiato was also happy to be able to remove some physical barriers required during the height of 2020’s COVID-19 caseload.

“We have plexiglass screens that we used during the height of the coronavirus. Those have come down, and we don’t use them any longer in drug court,” he said.

Fregiato added that vaccination status does not come up.

“They’re treated like all other litigants and their attorneys. It’s up to them whether they want to get the vaccination or not,” Fregiato said.

Fregiato said he expects similar numbers of participants and for proven practices to continue in 2022.

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