Last week’s article in our “Stories from the Front Lines” series covered some key information about the impact of COVID-19 on the recovery community from our front line workers. In this series we have also touched on the impact on treatment providers, and those looking for help. This week we asked the question; “how is our court system responding?”

To find the answer, we reached out to a couple of our specialized docket court contacts in Northeast Ohio. It seemed that no matter who we talked to the response was different. Some courts are completely shut down, so court participants are only reporting to probation, while others have converted to be almost fully operational using technology like Zoom.

Earlier this year, we dedicated a whole article to highlighting specialized docket courts. They offer a therapeutic approach to court supervision for qualifying individuals with specific needs, such as veterans or those suffering from mental illness or addiction. These courts provide vital support to their participants and the community, reducing recidivism, relapse, and prison populations.

One major concern for courts that have a large number of participants is losing touch during this time, especially for those who have just entered the program. “They need a lot of structure” Lisa Williams at the Honor Court for veterans in Stark County shared with us. At the Honor Court, they have completely moved all their programming to be virtual, but this was no easy task. Several participants didn’t have phones or internet. One participant had a phone, but it only worked outside her home. Lisa, the Director at Honor Court and her team had to work very rapidly to get everyone set up.

This process has not been easy for court staff, volunteers, or participants. The first week of the shutdown, Honor Court cancelled a session for the first time in nine years. The following session they called all participants, and by the third session, were able to host a Zoom session for the team, mentors and participants. They were even able to host their first ever ‘virtual’ graduation ceremony via Zoom on April 24th for four successful graduates!

I asked Lisa how everyone was doing overall and she said that she felt fortunate because the population she and her team serve are resilient. While the isolation has been difficult, especially for those in recovery, participants and mentors have likened the stay-at-home order to experiencing boot camp again. Participants and mentors have remained connected using virtual support and recovery groups on a regular basis.

I also had a chance to talk with Chris Stahr, Community Development Director at the Summit County Veteran Treatment Court, Valor Court. He said that he is very proud of the way they are adapting to virtual court sessions during this time. I even got to join in one of their weekly court mentor Zoom meetings!

During the meeting, the mentors shared updates and there was was an incredible amount of collaboration. It is clear that these volunteers are working hard to stay connected with all of Summit County’s 52 participants. Like Honor Court, they are also encouraging participants to take advantage of online meetings and resources.

While the courts are doing quite well considering the current circumstances, for some, there are common challenges including a rise in relapses and a decrease in the ability to drug test, provide sanctions, and volunteering opportunities. These barriers have lead to a lot of creativity on the side of the courts. They have increased incentives for those that are responsive, and found new virtual ways to get program required volunteer hours, utilizing sites like charitymiles.org. This site donates to charities when app users exercise.

At relink.org, we are working through the details this week to see how we can offer some virtual volunteering opportunities to court participants. If we can help them can get their hours, they can keep advancing in the program. It is so important that those in recovery can keep moving forward.

Though some businesses will be opening back up over the next month, the court contacts we talked to said they may be meeting virtually through July. It’s important that we all remember this and reach out to our local courts to see how we can help. These systems change people’s lives for the better and help restore our communities.

If you would like to be connected to a specialized docket contact in your area to see how you can help, please reach out. Stay tuned for next week’s article to continue to learn about the intersection of addiction and COVID-19 and how you can get involved.

If you or someone you know needs help now, find resources in your area through our online search tool.

About the Author

Bethany Friedrichsen is the Statewide Coordinator for relink.org. She has a background in psychology and has been working for the past three years in the addiction recovery and reentry space to create connection for people in need to the caring resources in their community.

Contact Bethany