WARREN - The recently established Trumbull County Juvenile Drug Court is one effort local leaders said they hope will aid in the battle against drug problems among area youth, including the increasing number of teens addicted to heroin.
The new drug court, one of several that have taken shape across the state, recently obtained its initial certification from the state Supreme Court and is now able to accept juveniles into the program.
Participation is voluntary and juvenile offenders must "plea" into it and meet certain criteria set by the court.
They must also have the consent and support of the parents to opt into it.
"It really is a family effort and for something like this to work participants need to have the support of the parents, of their families," explained Denise O'Shaughnessy, drug court coordinator and probation officer.
Once participants complete the program, which is roughly one year long and individually based, the charges against them could be dropped.
"There is a need for it. There are a lot of drug problems out there. More and more we're seeing kids addicted to opiates. This is one way to address the problems and provide options. It's one step towards having a different, more positive outcome, an alternative to incarceration. It gives families some hope." she said.
Trumbull County's Juvenile Drug Court is following the pattern of its adult drug court that was established about 15 years ago.
O'Shaughnessy said that although juvenile crime runs the gamut - from truancy issues to assaults, robberies and rapes - officials are seeing a growing number of drug-related incidents.
Trumbull started working with the state last year, planning and implementing the juvenile drug court, which operates through the county juvenile court. The court is geared, generally, towards nonviolent repeat offenders who have been determined to have underlying substance-abuse issues that have contributed to their behavior.
Court official and counselors determine whether they feel the participating juvenile is capable of being rehabilitated.
Juvenile offenders must meet several criteria. For example, they are required to report in periodically and meet regularly with substance-abuse and mental-health counselors and other officials. They are also subject to random drug screens.