Benjamin

LEWISBURG -– Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin will be the keynote speaker at the opening of the South Eastern West Virginia Regional Drug Court on April 1 at the Greenbrier County Courthouse.

The ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. in the Second Floor Courtroom. The Courthouse is at 200 North Court Street in Lewisburg.

Chief Judge Joseph Pomponio will be the presiding judge of the Drug Court that will serve Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties.

The South Eastern West Virginia Regional Drug Court is an important step in enhancing public safety and dealing with individuals who are substance abusers or addicts and are charged with or convicted of misdemeanors or felony offenses. The Drug Court presents an opportunity to reduce substance abuse, crime, and recidivism among criminal offenders, as well as reduce incarceration costs for the county and state.

"Without the support of the judicial officers and the community, many of whom donate their time to the Drug Court, it could not succeed," Benjamin said. "Drug Courts can turn lives around. These evidence-based treatment courts have a proven track record nationally, as well as here in West Virginia."

West Virginia currently has five regional adult drug courts covering seventeen counties. The Monongalia County Drug Court opened February 27. The Northern Panhandle Drug Court, West Virginia's first, serves Brooke, Hancock, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel Counties. The Southern Regional Drug Court serves Mercer, McDowell, Monroe, Summers, and Wyoming Counties. The West Central Drug Court serves Wood, Wirt, Pleasants, Ritchie, and Doddridge Counties. The Southwestern Regional Drug Court serves Lincoln, Logan and Boone Counties.

West Virginia also has two juvenile drug courts operating in Cabell and Wayne Counties.

Additional adult drug courts are expected to open this year in Cabell, Kanawha, and Preston Counties.

With a decade of research supporting the effectiveness of adult drug treatment courts, such programs are now recognized as an important strategy to improve substance-abuse treatment outcomes and reduce crime. Treatment courts produce greater cost benefits than other strategies that address criminal activity related to substance abuse and addiction that bring individuals into the criminal justice system (GAO February 2005 report).

Adult drug courts serve only those who have either pled guilty or been found guilty of non-violent misdemeanors and felonies, and who were motivated to commit those crimes due to a substance abuse addiction. People can volunteer for the programs to avoid jail and prison sentences, if a judge so orders. Prosecutors have final approval of all participants, and all participants must be evaluated as a low to moderate risk to be released back into the community.

People who have been charged with sex crimes or crimes in which a child was the victim are not eligible. Participants undergo substance abuse treatment and are heavily supervised by probation officers, law enforcement, and the sentencing court. If needed, they may also undergo treatment for mental illnesses. Participants may be forced to repeat certain phases if they have positive drug screens or if they refuse to cooperate. The judge may impose jail time if he or she feels it is necessary to make a participant follow the protocol.

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