By Marty Trese, KnoxPages.com Editor
MOUNT VERNON - More than 100 people attended Thursday evening's Town Hall meeting at Twin Oak Elementary School. It was the third of four meetings focused on drugs in our community, awareness and prevention. Mayor Dick Mavis, Municipal court Chief Probation Officer David Priest, the Knox Substance Abuse Action Team, KSAAT, and others are collaborating through this series to give residents an opportunity to learn more about the drug epidemic.
Thursday's session focused on the court perspective and judicial process.
Those who spoke included Chip McConville Knox County Prosecutor, Robert Broeren, Mount Vernon City Law Director, Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer, Judge John Thatcher, Mount Vernon Municipal (MERIT Court Program), Judge Richard Wetzel, Knox County Common Pleas, Judge Jennifer Springer, Probate/Juvenile Court, Adult Probation Department/Adult Court Services, Merit Court participants and those currently in recovery.
Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville,left, and Sherif David Shaffer at Thursday's drug awareness town hall meeeting at Twin Oak elementary school - KP Photo
McConville shared that the most widely used drug in Knox County today is methamphetamine. In fact, detectives were dispatched on a potential meth lab call last evening. One of the many statistics McConville shared is that there were 45 indicted felony cases that were drug related last year and 54 such cases so far this year. In 2012 meth cases were 17% of the total. In 2016 they were 60%.
McConville said the strategy for dealing with this problem is to separate the dealers from the users and put them on different paths. Intervention in Lieu of Conviction is one of those paths for users, for first time offenders who get tied up in something that is either a drug case or a drug-related case. The program allows someone to avoid a felony conviction if they have a first time offense and all of the consequences that go with that such as unemployment and get them into an outpatient treatment program.
McConville said, "Out of the felony cases that we've seen, 80% of those who have pleaded guilty to a felony say they are drug or alcohol dependent. There is no doubt that drugs are driving the bus in terms of the crime here in Knox County."
While McConville prosecutes felony cases in Common Pleas court, misdemeanors are prosecuted in Mount Vernon Municipal Court. City Law Director Rob Broeren said there has been a spike in drugged driving cases. Municipal Court Judge John Thatcher gave an overview of the relatively new MERIT court. It's been used for about a year. The program involves several phases and Thatcher said the goal is help offenders be less likely to re-offend. So far 28 people have gone through the program. Thatcher said that the drug court is part of the solution to the drug problem. "We try to give them a chance to be a contributing member of the community," said Thatcher.
The final town hall is set for next Tuesday, May 23rd,6:30 p.m.and the topics to be covered include community recovery and addiction resources.Video of the town hall courtesy Mount Vernon mayor's office.