Melynda Cook Howard (from left), Beth Yauch-Joseph and James Sherron are vying for election to the unexpired term of the late Middletown Municipal Court Judge Mark W. Wall.

Middletown Municipal Court candidates talk opioid epidemic, jail space

Melynda Cook Howard, James Sherron and Beth Yauch-Joseph are seeking election to the term that ends Dec. 31, 2019.

Wall died in February. In May, Ohio Gov. John Kasich appointed Cook Howard to the bench to fill the office until next month’s election.

The Journal-News asked each candidate about how the court can play a role in the local heroin epidemic and how the city’s jail operation impacts the court. To learn more about the candidates, check out the Journal-News’ online voters guide at vote.Journal-News.com .

The supply end of this epidemic — the drug dealers — are felony offenses so their cases are sent to common pleas court and is therefore outside the control of a municipal court. I know that jailing users of drugs alone is not going to win this fight. Which is why when I sentence a person I engage them in conversation about their problem, the possibility of treatment and give them treatment information, and tell them to write me a letter if they truly want treatment. …

… Since becoming judge, I have increased the treatment options and our providers for Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) — such as the Vivitrol shot. The Vivitrol shot lasts 30 days and it will stop an opiate user from using.

For those people that are ready for treatment, I have taken the stance that they can be released after 30 to 50 days of incarceration on a stay of their sentence. This front end jail time is important because it allows the offender to begin treatment clean. It also allows for additional jail days to be imposed if they are unsuccessful at treatment and being clean. …

This is not a matter of telling someone to stop what they are doing and punish them if they do not. Unless the addict has received long term treatment to address the underlying issues of their substance use (mental health, injuries, poverty, social issues), it is highly likely they will return to their previous pattern. If they do not have the support to gain employment, appropriate housing, etc., it is also likely they will be placed back in an environment that will jeopardize their recovery. …

Jail population is always a concern as we are limited in space in our city jail — maximum is 70 but the target number is 56. We also have 40 beds for inmates at the county jail. The City Jail houses persons waiting to appear on their case in Middletown Municipal Court and those that have been convicted serving sentences for City ordinance violations. Since I became Judge, going hand in hand with the stance I have taken with drug offenders and drug paraphernalia offenders, I am constantly monitoring the jail population. If our City Jail did not exist, our community’s safety would be in jeopardy as police would not be able to do their jobs on the streets and our court system could not function smoothly.

Using part of our jail in concert with a drug court will only help our community. If at the time of an overdose, the addict is charged with a first or second degree misdemeanor, I would have sufficient time for the addict to be assessed and a program designed to help him or her. The addict would remain in jail until he or she could begin inpatient or outpatient treatment.

I will exercise good judgment and consider the public’s best interest when making determinations regarding who is incarcerated. Our jail is a great asset to this community. It would allow me to have sentencing options. I will be creative with sentencing, such as allowing the defendant to serve his or her time in a manner that may allow him or her to not lose a job. It is important to punish those convicted, to protect society, but to also look at the big picture for the community. That is what is fair and just.

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