AKRON, Ohio — For roughly 20 years, Marie Burger-Rutter struggled through life as an addict.
“I was addicted to multiple substances. When they say “drug of choice,” it would be meth and heroin,” she explained.
That’s a far cry from where Marie is now, three-plus years sober and working as a recovery coach at Oriana House for others who are in the same position she once was.
It was Akron’s Recovery Court program that Marie credits with saving her life.
“Because there were people that saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Marie said. “I then got surrounded by a whole bunch of people that cared about me. And cared about me making it.”
Marie did make it, like the more than thousand other Recovery Court graduates since 1995.
Recovery Court in Akron is one of the longest-running drug courts in the state, boasting a 62% retention rate in 2018. Currently, 64 men and women are enrolled.
Since 2014, they have averaged 24 graduates per year.
For Judge Jon Oldham, who runs the court every Thursday morning, even one graduation in the last five years would have been worthwhile.
“Because each success story goes out and touches everyone else in this community,” Judge Oldham said. “I can absolutely say it works.”
Judge Oldham said there is clear evidence that the program reduces the likelihood of someone re-offending down the road. The court flags any misdemeanor cases that are directly tied to drug addiction to see if they would be eligible.
The program is not easy — participants must commit to at least a year of sobriety as well as a host of other treatment and probation plans. Recovery Court works with a team made up of people from Oriana House, the probation department, and a recovery coach.
The goal is to offer treatment instead of putting people behind bars.
“We learned as a country and as the entire justice system that incarceration is not the answer,” Judge Oldham said. “And it makes sense because you need treatment, not just locking someone up if you expect to have a positive change.”
'Recovery Court' is one of five specialized dockets in the Akron Municipal Court, including Mental Health Court and Valor Court, which is dedicated to defendants with military service involved in the criminal justice system.