CHANGE Court: 'You saved me from me' - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

CHANGE Court: 'You saved me from me'

Alicia Bishop( second from right, back row) graduated from Hamilton County CHANGE Court Wednesday. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker) Alicia Bishop( second from right, back row) graduated from Hamilton County CHANGE Court Wednesday. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Alicia Bishop gets a big hug from a supporter as her son looks on. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker) Alicia Bishop gets a big hug from a supporter as her son looks on. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Alicia Bishop speaking at her Hamilton County CHANGE Court graduation.  (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker) Alicia Bishop speaking at her Hamilton County CHANGE Court graduation. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Heather Russell oversees CHANGE Court. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker) Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Heather Russell oversees CHANGE Court. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

A bulging disc led to a painkiller prescription for soccer mom Alicia Bishop.

It wasn't long before she was hooked.

Her addiction led her to crack and heroin. A man she thought was her boyfriend turned out to be a pimp selling sex with her for money.

Bishop slept on sidewalks when she wasn't at the Hamilton County jail.

She was arrested 57 times in seven years: "I was so broken."

That all changed when a new Hamilton County court program gave her the tools and support she needed to get off the streets for good.

"You saved me from me," Bishop said Wednesday as she became the county's third graduate of CHANGE Court.

Bishop and two other women who graduated late last year from the voluntary program of intensive probation celebrate two years of sobriety.

Another graduation ceremony will be held in December.

Those who complete the court emerge with jobs, are reunited with their families and have hope again.

"Always surround yourself with those who see the best in you," Bishop's probation officer, Shannon Thompson, told her during Wednesday's ceremony.

The idea for the program came from two Cincinnati police officers, Nate Young and Kate Werner.

They went to Municipal Judge Heather Russell in February 2014 with a way to help heroin-addicted prostitutes.

Their request was in response to the West McMillan Community council. Residents complained that prostitutes were ruining their neighborhood with their activity, and the crime, abandoned syringes, graffiti, litter and traffic that occur where prostitution occurs.

The community also shared concerned for the prostitutes.

Due to overcrowding at the county jail, the community council realized that after the women were arrested (as low-level offenders), they would be released and be right back on the streets the same day - without even so much as an offer for rehab or detox.

The women would be given a date to return to court, but they never appear. So nothing changed.

But by April 2014, the judge had convened a meeting with treatment providers, court and jail administrators, and police. Working together, they begin to create CHANGE Court.

The program addresses the treatment needs for heroin-addicted prostitutes, as well as their mental health and trauma issues.

The judge accepted the first CHANGE court participants in July 2014.

In January, the Ohio Supreme Court certified the court as a specialty docket for victims of human trafficking.

CHANGE stands for Changing Habits And setting New Goals is Empowering.

The goal, the judge explained, is to detox the women and, since they are homeless, find them housing in residential treatment programs. 

They meet weekly with the judge and a treatment team that includes their counselor at their residential treatment program, probation officer and a program coordinator.

They go through program phases with rewards and sanctions. 

Research indicates that a brain on heroin needs two years to re-wire, and recover before a lifetime of sobriety can be considered, so the program offers a two-year probation period, according to Russell.

After that time, the hope is the women are sober and able to work and find housing, she said.

They also work on education, job coaching and re-connecting to family. 

There is an eligibility criteria for participants. They must:

  • Have current misdemeanor charges of prostitution or solicitation, along with related offenses, or new misdemeanor arrest with a history of prostitution or solicitation
  • Be an Ohio resident at the time of residential treatment
  • Be competent
  • Have the cognitive ability to understand and voluntarily participate in Change Court.
  • Be appropriate for intensive supervision probation and case management services and treatment
  • Be eligible for expungement after successful completion of the program (final decision rests with the prosecutor)

CHANGE court has no budget and no funding, the judge noted.

She has created processes to link to existing services and programs, each which are funded in a variety of ways.

Russell volunteers her time to oversee it all, in addition to her duties as municipal court judge.

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