Officials fete drug program

Local and state officials showed their support by attending the opening day ceremony for the Randolph County adult drug court program Monday.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, who said he valued adult drug court not only for its financial benefits but also for its social benefits.

“Drugs are an issue that affects every demographic, be it race or socio-economic status, even the children of circuit court judges,” Benjamin said. “In the instance of this program we are talking about good people who have lost hope and lost their way and have sunk to the bottom.”

Adult drug court is a 12-month, three-phase program that functions as a less costly alternative to incarceration. It relies on individually prescribed substance abuse treatment via the North Central Community Corrections program and court-monitored intensive supervision to rehabilitate people into society.

“Not only is this going to save taxpayers $17 million per year, this is making our neighborhoods safer, and allowing people to reclaim their lives,” Benjamin said.

Adult drug court aims to serve Randolph County residents who carry a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor on their record and are addicts or serious drug abusers.

Participants must attend meetings with their nine-member treatment teams weekly; check in with their probation officer face-to-face daily; contact their probation officer by phone between 6 and 8 p.m. nightly; work full-time or complete 40 hours of community service per week; and submit to frequent, random drug testing at least twice a week.

“In criminal justice each number represents a person, a husband or a wife, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter,” Benjamin said. “We need to be reminded that the people struggling to get their lives back together are human beings.”

Benjamin said that he attends as many of the drug court graduations as he can, going out of his way to make an appearance at them.

“It’s important to recognize the accomplishment,” he said. “These people had reached bottom and clawed their way out. They are taking responsibility and that is not easy.”

Benjamin said one of the most telling testaments to the success of the program he’s seen was at a graduation, where a graduate had been drug free for 14 months.

“She showed me her baby and told me that the baby was born drug-free and perfectly healthy,” Benjamin said. “She said that if it wasn’t for adult drug court, her baby would have been born addicted to drugs. That’s the best proof I can give in favor of the program.”

Other speakers at the ceremony included Randolph County Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong and Mike Lacy, director of the state Division of Probation Services.

Wilfong said she originally did not approve of the program for adults. However, after seeing how many lives were changed by the juvenile drug court, she eventually came to support the adult program.

“This a program for people who want to take control of their lives,” she said. “The participants want to live a drug-free life, but they need to have the opportunity.”

Lacy said the program is not only cost effective, and helps keep people out of prison, but helps them become productive members of society.

One of the ceremony’s most memorable speakers was Shana Arman, a drug court participant, who shared her experience with the audience. Having come into hard times after her husband was killed, raising two children alone, the path she chose led her to abusive relationships, drug addiction and prison time, she said. Then she was introduced to the drug court program and everything changed.

“The program gave me the support I needed to be a good mother and to get my life together,” Arman said.

Adult drug court operates on a system of incentives and sanctions. Incentives, which reward participants for steps taken toward a drug-free lifestyle, range from decreased supervision to the receipt of gift cards for an array of area stores and restaurants. However, as the participants’ handbook notes, “The most powerful incentive is the dismissal of your charges.”

Sanctions, or punishments, for noncompliance with program requirements include essay assignments, additional support group sessions, home confinement and jail time. If a participant tests positive for a controlled substance, the court orders that person to serve three days in jail, but if they lie about their use, the court doubles the jail time to six days.

According to John Meadows, adult drug court probation officer, the program has been a success since its first appearance in Randolph County on Oct. 16, 2012.

“We currently have 20 participants, two of whom are preparing to graduate next month,” Meadows said.