YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A major milestone was celebrated Wednesday for a program that has revolutionized a part of the court system.
In one of her last official acts before retiring, Ohio’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor came to Youngstown to pay tribute to the Mahoning County Felony Drug Court, calling it one of the best examples of “community.”
“People coming together, selflessly, to support one member of the community and by doing so strengthening the entire community,” O’Connor said.
The program is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Since Common Pleas Judge John Durkin established the court, 1,300 people have gone through the program. Drug offenders have to plead guilty to their drug-related charges to enter the program. Once they successfully complete three phases and are living a life of recovery for one year, all of their charges are dropped.
“March 5, 2021. My sobriety date – thanks to this man right here. He saved my life as well as his team,” said Josh, a participant in the program.
Ashely is another helped by the court. She said the help she was given has impacted others, too.
“There’s dozens of people just in my life that Judge Durkin has changed. He’s changed their lives because he helped change my life,” she said.
Even though the local drug court has a graduation rate of more than 60%, not all can get through it. However, it still leaves an impact on others who do eventually get sober.
“I have a 7 and 3-year-old, neither of which has seen me drunk or high. I get to be a father to them,” said Dan, a participant in the program.
But despite all the accolades now, Judge Durkin admits the early days weren’t the easiest as the idea was initially met with opposition and uncertainty.
“But I knew, I hoped that this would be something that would take off, that would be successful, that would ultimately change lives,” Durkin said.
The court is Ohio’s longest-running specialty docket presided by a single judge.