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W.Va. Drug Courts Working, But More Rehab Centers Needed

Jim Lee — a retired 45-year employee of West Virginia’s 1st District Circuit Court — said the drug court program he helped to start more than a decade ago is proving successful, but more drug rehabilation centers are needed across the state to tackle the serious problem of drug addiction in West Virginia.

Lee, a former chief probation officer in the 1st District, worked with former judge Martin Gaughan to establish the drug courts in 2005. Lesser offenders who have not been convicted of violent crimes are eligible for the program.

Lee said it currently takes three months for a drug offender to get into a drug rehabilation, as there aren’t enough drug rehabiliation centers across the state. The number of qualified drug treatment centers in the state is listed at anywhere from eight to 14 centers, with some maybe not having the ability to do the necessary care, according to Lee.

“If the politicians seriously wanted to be successful at treating the drug abuse problem in West Virginia, you would have 10 eight-bed treatment centers in every circuit in state — and we have 31 circuits,” he said.

“This would make it easy so people could walk off the street to get the treatment they need.”

Lee suggests 100 beds at each of the state’s eight regional jails be set aside for drug treatment.

Drug offenders today often are sentenced to drug court program rather than prisons as the state’s jails deal with overcrowding.

Administered by the West Virginia Supreme Court, the purpose of the drug court “is to achieve a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse among offenders and to increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early, continuous and intense treatment; mandatory periodic drug testing; community supervision; appropriate sanctions and incentives; and other rehabilitation services, all of which is supervised by a judicial officer,” according to information provided by the state Supreme Court. Participants agree to submit to frequent drug testing, as well as more frequent review and inspection by drug court personnel.

The number of drug court graduates since 2005 is approaching 1,500, and as many as 400 graduates now complete the drug court program each year.

The recidivism rate among drug court graduates is about 10 percent, compared to 80 to 85 percent for those not in the drug court program, according to state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin.

He said incarceration is necessary in many cases, and that drug courts “are not for everyone.”

But he also believes both nonviolent offenders and low-risk drug abusers can benefit from the drug court program.

Each incarcertated inmate in the West Virginia prison system costs the state about $30,000 annually, and drug courts do save West Virginia taxpayers money, Benjamin said.

“While we can see the savings, it’s hard to put a dollar cost on the saved lives and families, and the broken cycle that will result in future costs for the state and communities,” he said. “Most importantly, we are saving the individuals addicted to drugs.”

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