Wiping the record clean


udge Barbara Oswick addresses a young man in the Kent Municipal Court after his spending an evening in the Kent jail. The arraignment was called due to failure to complete the alcohol diversion program. Photo by Jacob Byk.

Lyndsey Schley

A young man sat on the bench in the courtroom in a hoodie with his hands cuffed together. He hunched slightly. It was about 8:15 a.m. on a brisk December morning. He spent the last night in jail.

The man was charged with underage drinking and was allowed to enter a diversion program, but he said he forgot to contact the coordinator in seven days, freaked out and did nothing.

“The worst thing you can do is nothing,” Kent Municipal Court Judge Barbara Oswick said.

The man was sentenced to spend 180 days in jail and pay a $1,000 fine, unless he completed community service.

Steps in a

diversion program


  • Contact the Diversion program within 7 days
  • Within three months:

  • Complete a substance abuse evaluation, costing $125
  • Attend “Think About Your Future” alcohol education program
  • Perform 16 hours of community service, with a $35 monitoring fee.
  • Pay court costs of $97
  • Within six months:
  • Commit no alcohol-related offenses
  • Total cost: $257

  • If not completed: Can be sentenced to up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Also, must pay court costs.
  • Marijuana:

  • Contact the Diversion program within 7 days
  • Within three months:

  • Complete a substance abuse

    evaluation, costing $125

  • Complete two hours of group drug education
  • Complete 30 minutes of counseling at the end of the program
  • Pass a urine drug test at end of the program
  • Pay court costs of $97.
  • Commit no drug-related offenses
  • Total Cost: $222

  • If not completed: Can be sentenced to up to 30 hours community service, a $150 fine, and a six month to three year license suspension.

Getting charged with a crime is serious business, but first-time offenders charged with underage drinking or possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia may be able to salvage their legal records through Portage County’s diversion programs.

Students who pay the $9 per-semester fee for Student Legal Services are entitled to seek advice from representatives. Attorneys, such as Carol Crimi, can help represent the student in court and give legal advice.

Crimi said the first step for students accused of a crime is the arraignment during which the defendant appears in court. The judge explains the student’s rights — often by video on the courtroom television screen — reads the charge and asks for an initial plea.

Both charges have specific penalties that make a person’s life harder. Crimi said students need to be aware the alcohol charge is a first-degree misdemeanor.

“It seems kind of crazy that holding a can of beer or drinking some beer is such a serious offense, but that’s what the legislature deemed at some point,” Oswick said. “We have to uphold the laws, and I think that’s one of the reasons that we developed the program.”

The marijuana offense comes with a required license suspension of a minimum of six months, Oswick said.

“Even though there’s really no nexus between driving and smoking a joint, that’s what the legislature has deemed,” Oswick said.

“What we’re really doing is preventing somebody from getting a license suspension.”

Oswick can allow offenders to enter diversion programs for these charges.

“What a diversion program is is an opportunity for a first-time offender to fulfill certain requirements for the court,” Crimi said. “If they successfully fulfill those requirements, the guilty plea they are required to enter is vacated, meaning it is removed, and the case is dismissed.”

Some larger cities, such as Cleveland and Akron, have a larger variety of diversion programs, but Portage County only has these two programs, Crimi said.

Oswick said she started pushing for the most recent program, the marijuana diversion program about eight years ago. She also helped connect with Kent State to offer students community work service opportunities to fulfil these requirements, while Family and Community Services of Kent runs the diversion program, she said.

“They just kind of took it and ran with it, which is great because we just don’t have the manpower to facilitate the numbers,” Oswick said.

Linda Anderson is the special programs coordinator at Family and Community Services. She said they focus on education. For the alcohol program, a probation officer and an emergency room nurse talk to the participants about the dangers of driving, while two others who have been in drunk-driving accidents tell their stories.

“We hope that they’re going to learn that there’s consequences to their actions,” Anderson said. “We have someone who has caused an accident and someone who hasn’t walked in 30 years. This could be life-changing.”

Diversion program coordinator Joe Ziarko said that in both programs, they try to teach participants to make good decisions and empathize with the people they could affect. He says this also benefits the community.

“It takes it away from the realm of punishment, and it goes to a realm of education and change,” Ziarko said. “If you have a change in attitudes about risky behaviors, you’re removing those behaviors from the community.”

If a student does not complete the program after Oswick gives them the opportunity, but have completed some requirements, she will generally give them more requirements. However, if they do nothing, they can expect a sentence.

“If I get them back eight or nine months later, and they’ve done nothing, they go to jail for the weekend,” Oswick said. “No ifs, ands or buts.”

Contact Lyndsey Schley at [email protected].