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Veterans in probation program graduate Honor Court

By JESSICA HOLBROOK | The Repository, Canton, Ohio | Published: October 28, 2017

CANTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Supported by friends and family and surrounded by mentors and advocates, two Stark County men celebrated their graduation Friday morning.

The two are the latest graduates of Stark County Honor Court, a specialized treatment court for military veterans based in Stark County Common Pleas Court.

Since the program was founded in 2011, 83 people have graduated.

Judge Taryn L. Heath presided over Friday's ceremony, which honored Jeffrey Bricker, a U.S. Navy veteran, as well as a U.S. Army veteran who asked he not be identified.

Heath acknowledged how each graduate fulfilled his code of honor for his respective military branch.

She praised Bricker for showing courage, by progressing through the program "and even when it was difficult, truly giving it his all."

"Just because you have bumps doesn't mean you can't finish the program and you can't accomplish what you set out to do," she said. "I'm glad that you're an example of being able to do it even if you run into a road bump or two along the way."

Since starting the program, Bricker has moved from recovery housing into his own apartment and is working toward helping others in recovery, Heath said.

Bricker announced to applause that he has been sober for 55 weeks.

"I just don't have the words to express the gratitude I have for everybody here... and the patience you've had for me," he said, adding that everyone let him move through recovery at his own pace.

"I'm just so proud of this court. And that's why I wanted my family to be here, to see how proud I am of each and every one of you," he said.

Honor Court

Honor Court is an intensive probation program for veterans or active military personnel who have been charged with felonies. The program takes at least a year to complete and focuses on comprehensive treatment, supervision and accountability.

Participants work with peer mentors. They are connected with community resources and assessments and treatment for mental health and substance abuse. Participants are required to complete community service and a community "give back project" that connects them not only to the community, but also to their veteran community, Director Lisa Williams said.

Friday was the program's 23rd graduation ceremony.

"I love the graduation because it's such a feel-good day for all the service providers," Williams said. "It's just a really good day. We like to celebrate with everybody involved."

Based on numbers, Honor Court works. About 70 percent of participants complete the program. Graduates have a 4 percent felony recidivism rate and a 12 percent misdemeanor recidivism rate, Heath said, calling those numbers "phenomenal."

Before the ceremony got underway, as Heath was introducing the organizations and people involved in Honor Court, Stephen Rangle stood up to make an announcement of his own.

The 16th of October marked his four-year anniversary of being released from prison.

"I honestly don't know where I'd be today with all of you," said Rangle, an Honor Court graduate and peer mentor with the program.

Heath said that before he completed Honor Court, she had sentenced Rangle to prison on three occasions.

"If that's not a testament to the fact that this program works, I don't know what is," she said.

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(c)2017 The Repository, Canton, Ohio
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