Diversions program removes drinking charges from records

Sara Macho

Municipal Court judges are looking to alter the requirements of a diversion program that can expunge an alcohol-related offense from criminal records.

Judges Barbara Oswick and John Plough, along with Judge Barbara Watson, will discuss the matter within the next two months, according to Linda Anderson, office coordinator of Family and Community Services of Portage County, Inc.

The optional six-month alcohol assessment program has not been changed since its debut in July 2000.

Joe Ziarko, program creator and independently licensed counselor, said the judges want to supply their input in order to improve the procedure.

The judges hope to increase the eight-month community service requirement to 16 hours. Judge Oswick and Plough also want participants to complete the proactive components of the procedure in three months instead of six.

The program, which is provided through Family and Community Services of Portage County, Inc., currently has three components: a chemical assessment with Ziarko, a two-hour educational segment and eight hours of community service.

During the chemical assessment, participants explain their case and receive guidance from Ziarko.

The educational program, titled, “Think about your future,” features various speakers from the county.

Anderson said the speakers share personal accounts of their experiences with alcohol.

Participants must also not commit any similar alcohol offenses for six months. In the occurrence of a repeated offense, the participant is automatically dismissed from the program and could face jail time, Ziarko said.

The program, which costs $125, gives participants the chance to correct their lives without spending time in jail, said an unidentified Kent Municipal Court sheriff.

The procedure is only open to those individuals who have no previous alcohol-related offenses. An individual can only participate in the six-month program one time. If any other offenses occur after the successful completion of the procedure, the individual would face an alternative sentence.

The experience is extremely beneficial to those who participate, Anderson said.

Individuals benefit most from the program’s ability to expunge an alcohol-related case, she said.

“Having an alcohol offense on your record could make or break your career,” she said. “If you’re wanting to work with a child, you have to have a clean record.”

Ziarko said the diversion program also allows individuals to gain perspective on their lives.

“I think if a person opens up to me, we can look at what’s really going on inside them,” he said.

After the successful completion of the program, Anderson sends a letter to the Kent Municipal Court judge who sentenced the individual. The individual can then apply to have the matter expunged.

Contact public affairs reporter Sara Macho at [email protected].