The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

June 9, 2014

Wyoming to launch new drug program

Court to manage effort designed to stem abuse

PINEVILLE — Wyoming County will be one of the first counties in West Virginia to institute an adult drug court program, due to the efforts of Circuit Judge Warren McGraw.

West Virginia Supreme Court’s Division of Probation Services hosted a luncheon meeting last week at Twin Falls Resort State Park to outline the program with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., serving as the keynote speaker.

Numerous representatives from Wyoming County’s court system, law enforcement, Division of Health and Human Resources, treatment providers, lawyers, along with county commissioners and other courthouse office holders also participated.

A mountain of information and statistics was provided on drug court operations and outcomes.

The statistics are staggering. In West Virginia, 20 percent of all babies — 1 in 5 — are born with drugs in their systems.

West Virginia consistently leads the nation in methadone drug overdoses.

 

Required by the West Virginia Drug Offender Accountability and Treatment Act, adult drug court is designed to reduce criminal recidivism, or back-sliding, and alcohol/substance abuse among “targeted offenders” through a specialized court docket, according to officials.

Rahall termed the adult drug court “a life-changing opportunity for the families of Wyoming County.”

There is no magic bullet, no one level of government that can solve the drug problem, Rahall noted. It will take everyone working together — from parents in the homes, to teachers in the schools, to law enforcement, to probation officers, to pharmacists, to doctors, the congressman said.

“We will never be able to claim victory,” Rahall said of the drug problem which is rampant across the nation. “We need to continue to make progress.”

Drug courts are a vital tool, an alternative to imprisonment and are proven to save lives as well as money, Rahall said.

“Drug courts do much more than throw a life preserver to a drowning victim and then hope they hold on until they reach safe port,” Rahall emphasized. “Drug court gives graduates a dependable escape pod to not only get back to dry land, but literally to get a new lease on life in a far better world than the one they left.

“Wyoming County didn’t create the drug problem, nor did West Virginia,” Rahall said. “Take your pick — prescription pills, meth, heroin — the problem is bigger than this county, our state, for that matter than any state on its own can handle. There must be a full federal partnership at work 24-7 for us to make continued progress.”

 

One of the misconceptions surrounding drug courts is that they are “easy on crime,” said Mike Lacy, state Division of Probation Services director.

He said those who are sent to jail for drug crimes may sit in jail month after month, but “come out exactly as they go in.”

Preconceived images about drug users are also false, Lacy said.

“We’ve had judge’s children in our drug courts. We’ve had doctors in our drug courts,” Lacy said.

Successful drug courts are based on “10 key components,” including treatment services; a non-adversarial approach to prosecution while promoting public safety; eligible offenders are identified early and placed in the program; frequent random drug testing; continued monitoring of compliance; ongoing judicial interaction with participants; continued monitoring of program goal achievements; continuing interdisciplinary education and partnerships among the courts and public agencies.

 

The county cannot design its own program, according to Christopher Perry, development and training specialist for the state’s Division of Probation Services. Adult drug courts across the state, required to be operational by 2016, will be operated the same way as outlined in state legislation. The drug courts will also fall under the authority of the West Virginia Supreme Court.

In Wyoming County, McGraw will serve as the presiding judge.

Lacy said McGraw was the first to reply to letters sent out by the state court about the implementation of a county drug court. As a result, the county will be one of the first to have an adult drug court in place, he noted.

Offenders do not become drug court participants until so ordered by the judge. Eligibility is determined by the legislated guidelines, which identify participants as “high risk” to re-offend and “high need” of substance addiction treatment.

Participants are also monitored closely through the Day Report program and random drug testing, and have continued access to treatment services, among other privileges not given to jailed drug offenders.

The average participant spends 18 months in the program, though the minimum requirement is 12 months — at least four months in each of the program’s four phases of completion.

When an offender completes the program, he/she participates in a graduation ceremony and is given a certificate, according to officials.

The new program is expected to be operational July 1 in Wyoming County.

— E-mail: mcbrooks@register-herald.com

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