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IRONTON - A program designed to help people convicted on drug possession charges stay out of prison and have their cases dismissed is meeting with success in some, but not all cases in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

Called treatment in lieu of conviction, the program requires drug offenders to get treatment and stay drug- and alcohol-free for a year.

"It's a tool," Judge Andy Ballard said of the program. Programs to help the offenders are individualized to people, he said. "It's finding the right component for each individual."

While he had one individual complete the year being drug- and alcohol-free, on three cases last week, people couldn't make it a year before relapsing.

Ohio wants to keep people out of prison in drug addiction cases, Ballard said. He used the county probation department to watch over the individuals trying to become drug free.

Some individuals end up getting in-house drug treatment like Mended Reeds in Ironton, while others can be ordered to complete up to a six-month program at the STAR Community Justice Center in Franklin Furnace, Ohio. STAR also has a drug relapse program that judges can use, Ballard said.

When the drug treatment programs don't work, Ballard has been extending probation and starting the yearlong prohibition on drug and alcohol free for another year.

Another program Ballard and Judge Christen Finley often employ is requiring drug offenders to perform community service. Ballard routinely requires them to do 200 hours of community service while Finley is requiring 400 hours of community service in some cases.

Carl Bowen, chief probation officer, assigns some individuals to work at a farm adjacent to the Lawrence County Group Home north of Ironton. "We donated one ton of green beans to senior citizens last year," Bowen said.

Eggs and vegetables from the farm are used to feed juveniles at the group home and prisoners at the Lawrence County Jail in Ironton, officials said.

Those on community service also can spend time cleaning up trash along county roads and highways as well as cleaning up around the courthouse.


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