Cabell Family Court Judge Patricia Keller sits behind a fish bowl she plans to use in Cabell County's Juvenile Drug Court. The fish bowl will be a grab bag of gift cards rewarding good behavior. (Photo by Curtis Johnson, The Herald-Dispatch)

HUNTINGTON -– The Cabell County Juvenile Drug Court Diversion Program has been reopened.

A ceremony was held Aug. 20 in Chief Circuit Judge Dan P. O'Hanlon's Courtroom in the Cabell County Courthouse.

The Cabell County Juvenile Drug Court began as a pre-adjudicatory program in 1999. In July 2004, the West Virginia Supreme Court began paying for a probation officer and drug testing for the program. Cabell County Juvenile Drug Court graduates had a recidivism rate of less than five percent.

Personnel changes and other issues led to the program's closure in November 2006.

Supreme Court Director of Probation Services Mike Lacy and Director of Court Services Angela Saunders provided technical assistance to restart the program and move it from a pre-adjudicatory juvenile drug court to a post-adjudicatory juvenile drug court. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities provided a $31,000 grant to restart the program and the Supreme Court again agreed to pay for a probation officer and drug testing.

Wayne County will begin a pre-adjudicatory juvenile drug court in September, allowing court officials to compare the effectiveness of pre-adjudicatory and post-adjudicatory juvenile drug courts.

The DHHR provided a $26,500 grant to train court officials in both Cabell and Wayne counties.

"We are extremely pleased with this partnership because drug courts have demonstrated great success in treating substance abuse. It is a needed program and we are proud to be a partner in helping Cabell County youth," said Steve Mason, Director of the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the DHHR's Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities.

Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said, "Every state in the nation has drug courts, and in some states they have even become established parts of the court system like Magistrate Courts and Family Courts are in West Virginia. This is one more step toward expanding the use of drug courts in our state."

Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis signed the administrative order opening the Cabell County Juvenile Drug Court Diversion Program.

"An important component of this program is, when feasible, to bring such individuals before judges who are trained in the field of substance abuse, addiction, and co-occurring disorders relative to drug court, and who can facilitate the effective operation of said programs," the order says.

Davis appointed Cabell County Family Court Judge Patricia A. Keller to preside over the new post-adjudicatory juvenile drug court in addition to her other duties.

In Cabell County, a probation officer will identify youths eligible for participation in the drug court. Juveniles must be between ages ten and seventeen, have substance abuse or alcohol abuse problems, and be charged with non-violent misdemeanor or felony offenses or alcohol-related status offenses.

The Juvenile Referee or other appropriate judicial official will refer a candidate to the Circuit Court. A Circuit Judge will take a plea of guilty, hold the disposition in abeyance and order the youth into the program. Upon successful completion of the Juvenile Drug Court program, the Circuit Judge will allow the youth to withdraw the guilty plea and dismiss the juvenile petition. If the youth fails to complete the Juvenile Drug Court Program successfully, the Circuit Judge will proceed with sentencing.

The Cabell County program will serve 30 juveniles by the end of the first year. Each youth must progress through four phases lasting a total of about ten months. Each phase involves regular drug tests; regular appearances before Judge Keller; meetings with probation officers, participants and parents; and individual and family counseling. The program will provide aftercare for all participants.

Keller will oversee administration of the program.

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