A ceremony was held last week to celebrate the start of the Eastern Panhandle Juvenile Drug Court, a new program geared toward helping juvenile offenders avoid continued problems involving drugs in the legal system.
The program is provided by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to aid in the treatment of youth who demonstrate substance abuse or high risk for substance abuse. Participants in the program, according to program literature, "will receive intensive treatment, supervision, drug testing and monitoring to achieve successful outcomes."
The local court was praised by members of the program as already seeing success in the local area. According to Juvenile Court Judge David P. Greenberg, there are eight individuals from Jefferson County enrolled in the program which has been in effect for about six weeks.
"The results to date are astonishing," Greenberg said. "There is not one instance with a parent or a child in the program not showing up to the weekly court appearance." Greenberg commented on the attitudes and actions of the youth in the program and how they have already seen improvement.
The program, aimed at those between the ages of 10 and 17, is active in several counties around the state. According to Michael Lacy, director of the Division of Probation Services for West Virginia, there is funding in the budget for two additional juvenile drug courts as well as four adult drug courts in the state. There are currently 15 juvenile and 13 adult courts, Lacy said.
The juvenile program, Lacy said, is about early intervention.
"What we've been doing in the criminal justice system in the past simply isn't working," he shared. Lacy went on to say that West Virginia is facing an epidemic in drug and alcohol use citing that the state has the highest percentage of deaths for methodone use.
County Commission President Patsy Noland told those attending the opening ceremonies that drug use affects many different aspects of a community as well as the individual involved and the individual's family.
"We have found that the number one recruiting problem for businesses through our economic development office is not the lack of individuals seeking a job but the inability of individuals to pass a drug test," Noland said. "And this is not just a state or local problem, it is nationwide," she said.
Noland commended the local members of the drug court team saying that these individuals are proof that it takes a village to raise a child.
Also on hand for the ceremony was Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin who has long been an advocate of drug courts.
"This is all about our kids, our most precious resource," Benjamin said.
Benjamin shared stories of drug court graduations he has attended, saying that those moments are moving and show that the program is a success.
"We are not 100 percent," he said, "but we do make a difference." He went on to say, "There are very few things I find more rewarding in my job than coming to one of these graduations."
The Juvenile Drug Court is a four-phase program that involves supervision, drug screening, court appearances and meeting with a probation officer prior to graduating the program. The time frame runs approximately eight to 12 months and is open to non-violent misdemeanor or felony crimes status offenders where underlying substance abuse may be a problem. It is a family-centered program involving not only the individual but the family, the school system and the legal system.
Referral sources for the program include not only the legal system but schools, parents, law enforcement officers, churches and the treatment community.
For more information on the local Juvenile Drug Court, contact Mary Newlin, juvenile probation officer, at Mary.Newlin@courtswv.gov or 304-728-1973.