POINT PLEASANT — The drug epidemic in Mason County is not only a burden on addicts and their families but on the court system.
However, the state of West Virginia has developed “drug courts” which are meant to deal with the drug problem in a more long term, rehabilitative and cost effective way.
Last week, Michael B. Lacy, director, and Lora Maynard, deputy director, for the West Virginia Division of Probation Services, spoke to a courtroom full of local people about the benefits of drug courts across the state and how to establish one. Gathered inside the Mason County Circuit Court courtroom were people from every area of the community, including Judge David W. Nibert who presides over many of the drug cases which are processed through circuit court. In addition, others attending were from county and municipal government, law enforcement, probation and rehabilitative services, the educational field, etc.
One of the bottom lines of drug courts, besides their rehabilitative results, are the fact they are cost effective. According to Maynard, those accepted into the drug court program are in it for a minimum of one year at a cost of around $7,100 per participant - compare this to housing an inmate at the Western Regional Jail for the same amount of time and that cost is $18,000; the cost is $24,000 to house an inmate in a state prison for a year. If a person in drug court commits an offense which requires them to be sent back to jail, the West Virginia Division of Corrections pays for their housing, not the county.
There are already 500-600 adults in adult drug court every day in the state. The goal is to reduce recidivism and substance abuse among those adults. It’s also a program which integrates alcohol and other drug related services into the court where everyone sits down at the table to take a multi-disciplinary team approach to getting people through to graduation and turning their lives around. Fidelity to the components in the program can translate into results for the person in drug court and the community affected, according to the presentation given by Lacy and Maynard.
Prosecutors and drug court judges are the final authority who decide who may participate in drug court. People registered as sex offenders or who have a prior felony conviction for a crime of violence are not eligible for these programs. Participants must also be West Virginia residents - a particularly relevant fact since Mason County borders Ohio. Participants undergo substance abuse treatment; must submit to frequent, random, and observed drug testing; and are intensely supervised in drug court programs. If needed, participants also may undergo treatment for mental illness.
Every multi-disciplinary drug court team is led by a drug court judge, meets weekly, and reviews the cases in drug court to discuss a coordinated response to each drug offender’s behavior. West Virginia has both judges and magistrates who volunteer as drug court judges.
“We do this because we are true believes (in drug courts),” Lacy said. “They really work and they make a difference.”