Since its inception in 2005, the West Virginia Northern Panhandle Treatment Court has served more than 100 graduates who have benefited from its rehabilitation efforts.
This particular court, located in Wellsburg, serves residents of Hancock, Brooke and Ohio Counties, giving participants the means to deal with drug and alcohol addictions. The program provides the criminal justice system the resources to deal realistically with non-violent offenders who have been sentenced by a judge to attend the program.
The mission of the program is to protect and improve the community by reducing repeat criminal activities related to substance abuse and addiction. It combines comprehensive treatment, rehabilitation and supervision for each participant. The successful graduates of the program will have their charges either reduced or dismissed and they may avoid jail time.
The out-patient treatment includes work four hours a day for five days a week and it lasts 12 months. Participants perform community service work on weekends. It treats offenders in all stages of court processing.
Currently, the Northern Panhandle Treatment Court is working with 45 active patients who receive the therapy and services each day. To attend the program, each participant must have been in trouble with the law, and a judge will sentence non-violent offenders to go through the rehabilitation.
Jim Stock, a probation officer with the Northern Panhandle Treatment Court, said the intensive therapy is far more effective than jail time.
"We have tried for the last 30-40 years to incarcerate our way out of addiction," Stock said. "It has not worked."
He added that the patients in the program are diverse; there is no stereotype of individual who attends.
"Addiction knows no socioeconomic boundaries," he said. "It's a disease, just like cancer or diabetes or anything else, knows no boundaries. Addiction is no different."
The addictions vary widely, as well. Stock said heroin is the most common problem in the northern panhandle of the state, while methamphetamine is a major problem statewide. He said they also see patients dealing with prescription pill and alcohol addictions.
One graduate, who had a severe addiction to alcohol, was sentenced to the court after her third DUI offense. She said if offenders are sent to jail, it puts the offense on the sidelines rather than treating it. For many addicts that is the missing link between recovery and rehabilitation.
The graduate said the program forced her to see the benefits of living a sober life and it taught her how to be responsible, productive and accountable, since she had to be in specific places all the time.
She credits the structure and emotional support in the program to her recovery success. When asked about rehab programs, she said the 30-, 60- and 90-day programs just do not provide enough time to recover, and it takes about a year to start functioning with a clear mind.
Participants in the program work closely with a probation officer, and are drug tested on a random basis. If a participant does not show up to class on a particular day the probation officer will track the participant down to find out why.
A past life of substance abuse landed another graduate-turned-sponsor in the drug court program too. He also credits the structure and friendships he formed as part of his success.
A drug arrest put him in the year-long program. He said the way the probation officers kept on him and pushed him to get through made him want to graduate and do it for himself.
The daily classes helped him to control cravings and urges and how to deal with those thoughts whenever they came into his head. They taught him how to live life without using drugs.
He said throughout the course, learning to stay busy and keeping himself occupied was part of his success. He made some close friends in the program, who he still spends time with on weekend fishing trips.
Now a sponsor, he helps other participants who may be having a rough time while going through the program.
"You kind of take them under your wing," he said. "Whenever they come in you give them your number and they'll call you if they're struggling and help guide them through and maintain hope for them."
In the years these two graduates have been sober, they've gone on to do great things with their lives. The woman has graduated college and is working on her master's degree while spending time with her son; the man is working a full-time job and has a baby girl at home.
"To be able to cope legitimately, chemically free is a gift," the female graduate said. "Because I'm not a slave to ‘I have to put something in me to feel normal.' I do feel normal today, like I can be a productive member of society and I know how to do that through the help of the drug court system."
These are only two examples of success stories from the program. Since the inception of the program in the northern panhandle, 141 people have graduated. Criminal background checks from 2011-2013 have revealed an 84 percent success rate.
Out of the 141 graduates in the last seven years, only 11, or 8 percent, were re-arrested for a serious offense carrying a sentence of at least one year in jail. The national average success rate of adult drug court graduates is 75 percent, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
The NADCP said that drug courts also save money. Nationwide, for every $1 invested in drug court, taxpayers save as much as $3.36 in avoided criminal justice costs alone. The drug courts also produce cost savings ranging from $3,000-$13,000 per client, reflecting reduced prison costs and reduced revolving-door arrests and trials.
Parents are twice as likely to go through treatment and complete it, while children of family drug court participants spend significantly less time in out-of-home placement.
For details about the West Virginia Northern Panhandle Treatment Court, contact Jim Stock at 304-737-3669.