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 prison system per year is $24,000, and a regional jail inmate costs roughly $18,000 to house.
According to Brent Benjamin, chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, drug court is cost-effective and it works. Benjamin said of those incarcerated for drug offenses, 75 percent will re-offend. Of the more than 50 percent of offenders who successfully complete drug court, only 9 percent will offend again.
"That is an astonishing figure when you realize how difficult it is to kick drugs," Benjamin said. "It really is a testament to the hard work of the judges, the prosecutors, the law enforcement, the drug court team, the probation people. It's such a long list of people, but it is an amazing thing."
LaKeisha Barron-Brown, Putnam County's Adult Drug Court probation officer and a former counselor for the Kanawha drug court, said the first five participants were chosen based on the severity of their cases and the nature of their crimes. Drug court does not accept violent criminals or sex offenders.
"They have very intensive programming from the beginning until the end," Barron-Brown said.
Drug court lasts a minimum of 12 months, Barron-Brown said, and offenders will progress through three phases. Phase one requires offenders to meet daily for therapy, while the second phase requires less frequent visits. Phase three focuses on reintegration into society. Participants in drug court are also subject to random drug screenings each week, as well as random home and employment visits.
"I've heard it said over the years that drug court is soft on crime, and I hope there's no one in this room this morning who believes that, because that statement is simply made by folks who don't understand what drug court is all about," said Mike Lacy, director of the West Virginia Division of Probation Services. "The easy thing to do for the drug court participants would be to go to jail.
"The problem with that approach is, as we see overcrowded prisons in West Virginia today, and overcrowded jails on any given day, we see that what we've been doing hasn't worked when it comes to addicts. What we've discovered is that folks who go to jail and prison as addicts come out as addicts."
Benjamin said he has attended the opening of 22 drug courts covering 34 counties, and announced that Marion County has contacted the state about developing its own adult drug court. The West Virginia Supreme Court has told all judicial circuits to have an adult drug court in place by 2015.
For Benjamin, the payoff for the courts is obvious. He's seen medical doctors, lawyers, college professors, the children of judges and people from all walks of life fall prey to addiction.
"We've had drug addiction specialists in the program. We've had professionals and nonprofessionals. We've had all forms of folks come through the program, all because of one thing: Drugs don't discriminate who they go after," Benjamin said.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.