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Judge creates program to keep people with developmental disabilities out of jail

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Posted at 6:32 PM, Mar 31, 2022

AKRON, Ohio — A courtroom can be an intimidating and scary place regardless of what you are there for, and for people with developmental disabilities, it can add another layer of distress.

A few years ago, Akron Municipal Court Judge Ron Cable started RISE Courtto help human trafficking survivors caught up in the criminal justice system.

Now, he’s created the “Connect” program, focused on individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I think it's unique in that it serves a very vulnerable group of people,” Cable said.

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According to the court, there are roughly 40 to 50 people with developmental disabilities charged with misdemeanor crimes in Summit County each year — like 22-year-old James Stohler, who is set to graduate from Connect in just a few weeks.

“I’ve had a couple anger issues in the past,” James explained. But now, he says having people surrounding him who care and look out for him has made all the difference.

“It’s kind of like having a family around you,” added James.

And speaking of family, the program is personal for Cable.

“I have a son who has autism, he’s 24 years old, he has a huge heart,” Cable said. He's also near and dear to Magistrate and mom Jennifer Towell’s heart.

“Our middle son is 11 and his name is Joey,” Towell said. “Joe was born with Down Syndrome.”

Here’s how “Connect” works:

Participants have a developmental disability diagnosis and voluntarily take part in the one-year probation program as an alternative to jail for minor misdemeanor crimes. If they meet all the requirements and stay out of trouble, their records will be sealed.

“They really don’t need to be placed back in jail,” Cable said. “It’s not the proper place for them.”

And every step of the way, they have helping hands “to allow those individuals to really understand their rights and help guide them so they don’t get lost in the system,” Towell explained.

Probation officers work closely with them to keep them on track, and wraparound services help them with job placement, counseling and whatever they may need to succeed.

“I just love having people that care about me,” James said.

The program just started last fall and there are three participants right now, with hopes to grow.

There are several dozen mental health courts across Ohio, but Cable told reporter Homa Bash there are not many specifically geared toward those with developmental disabilities.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.