CHARLESTON – The 31st Circuit Adult Drug Court had its first graduation ceremony on Feb. 3 at the Summers County Courthouse. The Summers and Monroe counties drug court’s inaugural ceremony celebrated five graduates who completed the program.
The program, meant to rehabilitate drug offenders, was established in 2014 and has been a stable in the area since its conception.
“For most graduates, this is their first significant life accomplishment. They may have dropped out before finishing school, became addicted as a teen, and never held long-term employment,” 31st Judicial Circuit Judge Robert A. Irons told The West Virginia Record. Irons is the supervising judge of the drug court program.
In order for the attendees to graduate, they have to obtain a GED, prove they have been drug-free for an extended period of time, be employed and not obtained any additional crimes to their record.
“Most of the graduates have been in the program for over two years,” Irons said. “The graduation ceremony allows the graduates and their families to celebrate these accomplishments.”
The program is designed to assimilate ex-cons back into the community and show that they can be committed and productive members of society. Drug court has been very successful over the past three years.
“In the future, we hope to increase the number of participants, increase the amount of community service projects, and integrate the program more tightly, with other community programs,” Irons said. “When it started, there was quite a learning curve as this is a radically different approach to dealing with crime and addiction. We now find that our current clients are moving through the program more quickly, achieving program goals more easily, and in general, having fewer problems.”
Irons has been circuit judge for 25 years and finds the drug court program very rewarding. For the first time in 25 years, his administration is starting to see big improvements on the incarceration, crime and addiction rates because of the program.
“I have dealt with multiple generations of the same family…for many years, it didn’t seem like we were making any progress,” said Irons. “Through drug court, for the first time in 25 years, I am starting to see big improvements.”
In the upcoming year, the program hopes to increase its participants and continue to show other counties that there is a better and more efficient way to rehabilitate drug offenders and help control the prison population. Since the program started, the 31st Circuit has been able to reduce the average monthly jail by 50 percent, which can now be used on community needs.