CHARLESTON – West Virginia’s war on drugs continues to present many challenges. It seems as though a battle is being waged in every home, neighborhood and community throughout our state.
Those on the front lines deserve every tool available to eradicate substance abuse in West Virginia.
That is why I recently partnered with state Sen. Ed Gaunch to introduce Senate Bill 496, which created the 24/7 Sobriety Program, designed to function as a fully offender-funded initiative that offers continuous drug and alcohol monitoring. It primarily serves as an effective alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders, which in turn will decrease both the recidivism rates and the state’s bulging prison population.
The program utilizes a number of testing mechanisms, such as twice-a-day breathalyzer tests, alcohol monitoring bracelets and ignition interlock, as well as drug patch and urine testing. Its success has been nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Sen. Gaunch and I became aware of the program on separate occasions. We came away impressed with its tremendous impact on curbing recidivism rates with alcohol and substance abuse offenses in states that adopted the program, particularly in South Dakota where it was pioneered.
For instance, while drug courts focus on addicted offenders who require publicly funded treatment, any offender charged with an alcohol- or drug-related offense and whom the judge believes would benefit from a strict and continuous testing regimen, may be a candidate for the offender-funded 24/7 Sobriety Program.
Meanwhile, not every substance abuse offender will be an ideal candidate for home confinement, and in fact, W.Va. Code § 62-11b-6 actually sets forth circumstances where home confinement is prohibited. In those instances, the 24/7 Sobriety Program would simply serve as another option for judges and law enforcement to utilize at their discretion.
The 24/7 Sobriety Program is not the cure all to the state’s drug program, but it is yet another tool that our state can use to reduce recidivism and reduce the number of non-violent offenders in our prisons.
During the next session of the Legislature, it is my hope that we can advance 24/7 over the opposition of the bureaucrats who opposed this worthwhile program this year.
Do not get me wrong, I commend our state for being proactive in creating programs, such as drug court and home confinement. These programs have proven to be effective in curbing substance abuse and addressing effects thereof.
However, we must do more.
Let’s do everything we can to defeat the terrible substance abuse epidemic in our state.
Morrisey is West Virginia's attorney general.