MADISON — About three-fourths of all inmates in West Virginia are incarcerated due to drug crimes or drug addiction-related crimes.
West Virginia’s drug court program offers an alternative to incarceration.
“It offers opportunities, instead of going to jail,” said Boone County Circuit Judge William Thompson. “The number one opportunity it offers the participants is the chance to lead a clean and sober life. We also teach them job skills, parenting, coping skills as well as providing them with both group and individualized therapy. As with any program, if a participant wants to succeed, they generally do well, however, if they don’t have the proper motivation, they will fail.”
In order to qualify for the program, a participant must fill out a referral packet. That packet goes to the county prosecutor’s office to approve.
“The prosecutor acts as the gatekeeper for the program,” Thompson said. “If the prosecutor’s office approves the applicant, they must be evaluated by a drug court staff member to see if they meet the criteria for the program. If they overcome that hurdle, they are evaluated by a psychologist to see if the program would benefit them.”
Thompson says the final step is for the treatment team to vote on their acceptance.
“Sounds like a lot of hurdles, but we can usually get someone ready for drug court in about 10 days,” he said.
Last week, Thompson spoke with 12 participants in the program during proceedings at the Boone County Courthouse. He released one person from jail, while incarcerating two others that had failed drug screening tests.
“My thought process is to treat everyone how I would hope to be treated myself,” Thompson said. “If a person, does well, they ought to be recognized for that. However, if a person does poorly, they should be punished.”
Thompson encourages participants to follow the rules of the program, but will not hesitate to send those not following the rules back to jail.
“I end up developing a relationship with the participants that is closely akin to a parent-child relationship,” he said. “I want to see them do well, but I don’t hesitate to discipline them when they mess up. Likewise, most of the participants seek out praise from the court when they are doing well, but also don’t want to disappoint the court.”
While the program has had great success stories, it has also seen many failing and returned to prison.
“One thing I would like to see happen that would benefit drug court would be more community involvement from community groups, including the local churches,” Thompson said. “The participants, before they came into the program, basically spent every waking minute either getting high or thinking about getting high. While drug court does take about 40 to 50 hours a week with its requirements, we need some help filling the rest of that void.”
Thompson added that the program’s community service activities has been very beneficial.
“We have worked for both the county government and all of the cities in Boone County, as well as the Hatfield and McCoy trail, the Madison Little League, the Madison Buddy League, as well as many other civic organizations and our help has been well received and appreciated by its recipients,” he said.
National statistics show that drug abusers are more likely to re-offend if they don’t get treatment for their addiction.
“In the long run, it is cheaper for the county and state and safer for society to provide treatment and alternatives to jail, like the drug court program,” Thompson said. “Participants must understand this program offers many opportunities, but if they don’t follow the rules they will have only one option and that is going back to jail.”