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Putnam County adult drug court to start in September

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam County will have another tool to combat drug-related crimes when it opens its adult drug court for participants as early as September.

According to Putnam Circuit Judge Joseph Reeder, the West Virginia Supreme Court has told all circuits to have an adult drug court in place by 2015, so Putnam County is ahead of many of its counterparts. Reeder, who will oversee the program, said he will have a coordinator for the court chosen by next week.

For Reeder, the drug court will give the county the chance to take "high-risk, high-need" addicts and rehabilitate them over the course of two years.

"The ultimate goal is to cut down on recidivism," the judge said. "We're trying to eliminate these folks' future contact with the court system by doing that."

In West Virginia, the average cost for someone to be in a drug court program is $7,100 per year; the average cost of incarcerating someone in the state's prison system per year is $24,000, and a regional jail inmate costs roughly $18,000 to house.

Reeder attended the National Association of Drug Court Professionals National Conference last week and said drug courts save $3 for every dollar invested in the program and have been proven to lower the instances of repeat offenders.

"That's my motivation for getting behind drug court," he said, "and I think it's the motivation for the court system in general."

The adult drug court will be similar to other courts in the state, as well as the juvenile drug court that already exists in Putnam County. In addition to a coordinator, the program will have a counselor and a treatment team, which will have representatives from the county's probation office, the prosecutor's office, the sheriff's department and other county agencies.

The program will have three phases, with offenders reporting to court weekly during the first phase and visiting less frequently as they progress. They will be subject to random drug screenings and regular counseling sessions throughout the program.

Sgt. Ryan Lockhart of the Putnam County Sheriff's Department will serve as a law enforcement representative for the court's treatment team, and will help evaluate people's eligibility and progress in the program.

According to Lockhart, the adult drug court is a necessary addition to the county's diversion programs. He said he hopes it will help lower the number of drug-related offenses the county has seen in recent years.

"I can't think of a property crime in the last six months that couldn't be traced in some way to drugs," Lockhart said.

According to Reeder, 75 percent to 80 percent of the criminal cases his office deals with are related to drugs, and the need for ways to deal with the problem of addiction is greater than ever.

"The drug issue is becoming more and more of an epidemic," he said. "People are either committing crimes to support their habit; they're not taking care of their children because they're on drugs -- drugs are a pervasive problem in our society, and drug court will provide an alternative-sentencing option for certain offenders."

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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