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Editorial columns

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Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis started the Hope Probation program.

Judge extending hope to meth addicts


Marisa Hanlon, 40, was arrested in Allen County two years ago when she attempted to buy a case of commercial-strength Drano – an essential methamphetamine ingredient. At home, she had stockpiled battery acid, lye, ephedrine, pesticide, insecticide, butane, brake fluid, ether and cold packs – all for her personal meth production.

Methamphetamine has spread beyond rural neighboring counties and into urban areas like Allen County. Local law enforcement officials are overwhelmed. And Allen County judges and court officials, with very full dockets, are working overtime to come up with creative solutions for overcrowded jails and limited rehabilitation resources.

After her criminal sentencing, Hanlon became a part of the Hope Probation program, an innovative program implemented by Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis that allows nonviolent offenders to enter house arrest or transitional housing. With stringent accountability and zero tolerance, offenders must attend rehabilitation, counseling and maintain a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle.

“Meth addicts have an impossible time recovering on their own,” says Davis. “Court-ordered services, combined with judicial sanctions for noncompliance, help drug offenders take personal responsibility to become clean and sober … or risk going to prison.”

Davis assumed the bench in 2011 after a stunning upset victory over a 19-year veteran judge. Since then, she has been recognized for having one of the five busiest (out of 500) courtrooms in Indiana. In 2012 alone, she oversaw 147 meth-related cases.

Hope was born out of Davis’s interest in alternative sentencing. Two years ago, she spent a vacation day shadowing Judge Steven Alm, the brainchild behind Hawaii’s successful Hope program. Armed with this knowledge and in close collaboration with the Allen County sheriff and the Probation Department, Davis has introduced nonviolent defendants like Hanlon to less expensive and more effective treatment solutions.

Hope Probation and other Allen County Criminal Court initiatives, including the Drug Court and the Re-Entry Court, have become a unique lifeline for recovering nonviolent drug users. Unwittingly, the court has become a change agent, often ensuring that offenders are not living where they were living and not traveling around in the same groups that first got them into trouble.

Through these unique local court initiatives, recidivism is decreasing. And overcrowded jails are experiencing some relief.

At the faith-based Redemption House, her court-ordered halfway house, Hanlon speaks candidly about her meth nightmare.

“Meth destroys everything and everybody that it encounters. It takes your soul from you,” she says. “I have never met anyone who is on meth who is happy.”

Securing employment is another huge obstacle for most felons. And often, nonprofit organizations serving prisons and criminals are underfunded. Successful faith-based safe houses like Redemption House are in desperate need of financial support.

Davis also strongly encourages support for groups serving at-risk youth in the community.

“Now more than ever, I am interested in youth ministry and in really helping young people. When I have a first-time young offender in court, that is my time to grab their attention and see if the court can make a difference in their lives.”

Hanlon tears up when talking about her appreciation for the Allen County court system, which caused her to come to the end of herself, and for Judge Davis, whom she credits with giving her hope.

“Drug addicts need a side of you that is beastly and doesn’t put up with anything, but we also need somebody who will give us a lifeline. If I succeed, it will be because Judge Davis saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Gina Zimmerman, a Fort Wayne real estate agent, served on the professional staff of former U.S. Rep. Mark Souder and in the Reagan White House. She wrote this for the Journal Gazette.