Benjamin to speak at Monongalia drug court opening

By The West Virginia Record | Feb 25, 2009


MORGANTOWN -- Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin will be the keynote speaker at the opening of the Monongalia County Drug Court at 10 a.m. on Feb. 27 at the Monongalia County Courthouse.

The ceremony will take place in Courtroom Number One. The Courthouse is located at 243 High Street, Morgantown.

Judge Russell M. Clawges Jr., Chief Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, will be the presiding judge of the Drug Court. He and Senior Status Judge Robert Stone also will speak at the ceremony.

The Monongalia County Drug Court is a 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 in Monongalia County, as well as reduce incarceration costs for the county and state.

The state Supreme Court is indebted to the hard work, dedication, and commitment made by judges, magistrates, prosecutors, defense counsel, day report center, health care practitioners, members of law enforcement, and other drug court team members who have contributed to this effort.

"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 in a press release. "Drug Courts can turn lives around. Instead of simply punishing people, we can help them address the root causes of the behavior that led them to commit crimes. If we can help them change their behavior, they may be able to lead more productive lives, both as family members and as citizens in our communities."

West Virginia currently has four regional adult drug courts covering eighteen 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, Greenbrier, Pocahontas, 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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