CHARLESTON -- First Judicial Circuit Judge Martin J. Gaughan and Brooke County Chief Probation Officer Jim Lee were recently recognized for the success of the Northern Panhandle Treatments Courts program they helped to create.

On Aug. 3, Gaughan and Lee were given an award for the best criminal justice program in the southern region at the National Criminal Justice Association Forum in Fort Myers, Fla.

There are four regional winners each year and the first time a program in West Virginia has been recognized.

"It's gratifying for everyone in the judicial system that the pioneering work of Judge Gaughan and Jim Lee is being recognized beyond the state's borders," said Supreme Court Administrative Director Steve Canterbury. "We know that because of their leadership we are doing great work, but it's always pleasant when other people notice,"

Norbert Federspiel, West Virginia Division of Criminal Justice Services Director, nominated the Northern Panhandle Treatment Courts, along with Gaughan and Lee, because of the community corrections effort they have led across the state and its focus on treatment courts.

"Our community corrections probably wouldn't exist without them, or at least would be crippled without what they have done," Federspiel said.

The Northern Panhandle program is described as providing alternatives to incarceration and being able to help rehabilitate and reintegrate a variety of offenders into the community where they can lead positive, constructive lives that benefit themselves and society.

In 2004, West Virginia's first mental health court was opened in the First Judicial Circuit, followed by a drug and DUI court in 2006 and a re-entry court in 2009. Later this year, a juvenile drug court will open.

"This award is the result of the entire community including judges, prosecutors and county commissioners working together for over 10 years to create a criminal justice program that protects the community and changes the lives of everyone involved in the system," Gaughan said.

"This would be a great way to end my 40-year career in community corrections, but Judge Gaughan said I can't retire yet," Lee said with a smile.

Lee said that over the last several years more than 40 organizations have visited the First Judicial Circuit to model the system.

Nominees for the NCJA awards are reviewed by NCJA staff and other state administrative agencies. Award-winning programs are those that showcase successful promising practices in criminal justice and can be easily replicated, address important criminal justice issues, demonstrate effectiveness based upon the programs' stated goals and are good examples of the use of federal funds to initiate a program that is subsequently supported through state and local funds. Programs also may be self sustaining.

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