The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 18, 2014

Strong weapon

— Finally, it feels like someone has been listening.

Often in this space, we have said that longer-term, community-based substance abuse treatment should be one of the weapons in the arsenal for fighting the war against drugs.

Now the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety is organizing a pilot program to do just that.

Three area counties — Fayette, Raleigh and Mercer — are among the nine that will expand their effective substance abuse programs to offenders in the community.

Mercer Delegate John Shott calls it a “major step” in the right direction.

“Basically, it is intended to provide courts and judges with additional options to help treat people that need help,” Shott said.

Additional options. That falls right in line with what we have been saying for years.

The program arises from the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2013, a law proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to reduce criminal recidivism while tackling inmate crowding in West Virginia’s prisons and jails.

It recommends increasing rehabilitation services for offenders who show a high risk for re-offending and a need for substance abuse treatment.

“This will be a coordinated effort between the court system and other programs that work with substance abuse,” Shott said.

Military Affairs and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Joseph Thornton says programs offered in prisons are effective, but the lack of community-based services for offenders represents a significant gap.

The establishment of such community-based treatment opportunities promises to close that gap and offers offenders a better chance at being successful, law-abiding and productive members of society.

Prosecutors in some counties already offer short-term treatment programs, but they often end too soon.

At the request of Tomblin, $3 million in committed funding is budgeted for the current fiscal year, said Lawrence Messina, communications director for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. He said that as the word gets out about the pilot project, the state is hoping to hear from rehabilitation centers and agencies that wish to be involved in launching the program.

That is our hope as well. We believe that most people who have a substance abuse problem would rather get clean — and stay clean. This program will be a strong tool in making that a reality.