MERCER – Earlier than medicine hijacked his thoughts, Jason Ondic didn’t even take into consideration crime. When he was 22, nevertheless, medicine took over. He began stealing, even victimizing the individuals who cherished him most — his dad and mom. Ondic’s downward spiral resulted in dropping custody of his kids.
From 2017 to 2020, Ondic drifted out and in of jail, together with an eight-month stint that landed him in Mercer County Drug Therapy Courtroom. There, he was given a alternative: Extra jail or a rigorous court-mandated therapy program that began his journey to restoration.
The native therapy court docket, licensed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Courtroom this month, is giving native folks like Ondic a second likelihood. Presently, 33 individuals are enrolled within the Mercer County Drug Therapy Courtroom, which began in 2019. Six have graduated from this system.
Like different drug courts across the state and nation, Mercer County’s court docket affords intensive drug and alcohol therapy for offenders as an alternative choice to jail or jail. Research present therapy choices supplied by drug courts are far more cost effective, and much simpler, than incarceration, which prices taxpayers roughly $30,000 a 12 months per individual.
Drug and therapy courts assist folks combating dependancy keep out of the prison justice system and return to their jobs and households. They transfer folks by restoration with intervention, help, construction and therapy.
“I give all due to therapy court docket for the place I’m at right now,” Ondic, 27, stated. “I can let you know I wouldn’t be clear with out it.”
By way of this system, Ondic gained partial custody of his kids, ages 10, 10, and eight, after drug therapy supervisor Sara Fusco wrote a letter to the state testifying to his progress. He additionally earned a license to promote insurance coverage and secured a gross sales job.
“This system modified my life,” Ondic stated. “It offers you the instruments to do the appropriate factor.”
Senior Frequent Pleas Decide John C. Reed began the native drug therapy court docket and presided over it till January 2020, when Decide Ronald D. Amrhein Jr. took over. Not one of the program members have been re-arrested, Amrhein stated.
“They’re all doing very effectively,’’ he stated.
The Supreme Courtroom licensed this system after assessing compliance with 10 key elements established by the Nationwide Affiliation of Drug Courtroom Professionals. The advantages of accreditation embody higher entry to grants and different funding and assist with compiling sentencing knowledge.
Like different drug courts, Mercer County’s program is voluntary. As soon as enrolled, nevertheless, members endure necessary therapy, random testing, and common appearances earlier than a decide. Individuals additionally should attend help teams, equivalent to Narcotics Nameless and A.A., and carry out neighborhood service. If members fail to satisfy the mandates, the court docket can take away and incarcerate them.
Pennsylvania has greater than 70 drug therapy court docket packages: Grownup Drug Courts, Household Drug Courts, DUI Courts, Re-Entry Drug Courtroom, Juvenile Drug Courts, and Grownup Drug/DUI Hybrid Courts.
Like Ondic, Brittany Norcross, 34, of Sharon, just lately graduated from drug and therapy court docket and is ending an aftercare program.
4 years in the past, Norcross grew to become hooked on crack cocaine. Her descent into dependancy included jail time, homelessness, and dropping custody of her kids, ages 14, 10, and two.
Whereas hooked on crack, she grew to become pregnant and misplaced her child by a miscarriage. It was a wake-up name that took her into therapy and court-ordered rehab. “I knew I couldn’t proceed to stay the best way I used to be dwelling,” Norcross stated.
Clear for 17 months, Norcross maintains an condominium and holds down a job in dwelling well being care. She’s again along with her kids.
“This system saved my life,” she stated.
Now, Norcross is making an attempt to assist others. She and several other others in this system began a charitable group referred to as SOS, a restoration group that meets weekly on the ROAR Middle in Sharon, providing compassion and help.
“The construction of this program gives that with out judgement,” Fusco stated. “These individuals are able to doing nice issues — and can if given a second likelihood.”