By J.D. Charles For Civitas Media
May 11, 2014
Three more adults graduated from the Logan County Drug Court program Fri., May 9, 2014. The two men and one female graduates joined the ranks of two dozen people who have successfully completed the stringent alternative sentencing program designed to help get non-violent offenders out of the court system and back into the world of work where they can support themselves and live normal lives again.
Drug Court applicants work their way through a minimum year-long program that sees them drug tested six days per week in the first phase of the program, and they are required to do community service and take classes for substance abuse, including Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous in order to learn more about the affliction of addiction that has landed them in legal trouble so they can develop the intellectual tools needed to help them overcome their problems and rebuilt their lives. In the second phase of the program clients are required to seek gainful employment. By the time an applicant has attained Phase III status, he or she will have had a significant amount of clean time (meaning no failed drug screens) as well as making other improvements. A client needs two months consecutive clean time to make it into phase III and to graduate they need six months of clean time.
The whole purpose of Drug Court programs is getting people out of the system, helping fix the problems they have that caused them to get into trouble with the law and make them contributing members of society. Due to the nature of drug addiction in southern, West Virginia applicants for Drug Court often come from all different walks of life and all different levels of society.
Logan Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant served as Master of Ceremonies for the graduation, which was attended by family members of the graduates, staff members from the Logan Day Report Center and Logan Probation Office as well as special guests from the Logan County Commission, the state legislature and Washington’s representatives from the House and Senate.
Over a decade ago, Judge O’Briant and his fellow Circuit Judge Roger Perry approached the Logan County Commission and asked to do pilot a Drug Court program for Logan County. O’Briant noted that he initially sold the County Commission on the program by pointing out its potential to save the county money, but in time the commissioners saw its value in other ways.
O’Briant singled out Logan Day Report Director Michelle Akers as “one of the finest directors” in the field, explaining that he has seen comparisons from other areas across the state and nation that were not as favorable.
Judge O’Briant noted that the Logan County Commission had been a strong supporter of the program from day one and that without their assistance, as well as assistance from the West Virginia Legislature, and the US Senate and Congress, the work done to help get people off drugs and back on track with their lives would not be possible.
“We could not do this without the help from state, local and federal officials,” O’Briant said, adding that Logan had been so successful as a pilot program that by July of 2016 every county in West Virginia will have access to a Drug Court program.
Mike Browning, the representative from Senator Joe Manchin’s office, noted that he was in Wyoming County recently where the topic came up and he pointed out how “if they wanted to find out about a successful Drug Court you need to look at Logan’s”.
Browning also delivered a message of congratulations to the grads from Senator Manchin, who noted such programs offer community service and treatment to the benefit of the clients and the community. Manchin hoped the three graduates were proud of themselves for their achievement and noted he wished them success on a bright future.
Robbie Queen, the representative from Congressman Nick Rahall’s office, delivered a message from the Congressman, who said he appreciated the hard work, dedication and commitment of everyone at the ceremony — both the graduates and staff who assisted them. “Your efforts are one of the pillars in the foundation that keeps our communities strong, and with your service and commitment we will continue to move forward with our pursuit of solutions for substance abuse,” Rahall wrote. “I congratulate you on this graduation day. To arrive at this point, you have travelled a challenging path.”
West Virginia State Senator Art Kirkendoll, a longtime member of the Logan County Commission, noted that in his decades in public service he had never seen the Logan County Commission fail to step forward and support programs like Drug Court which have the potential to help people. Kirkendoll said that years ago when somebody got hooked on drugs they either wound up in jail or on probation, “and that was it,” he said, explaining that in addition to the expense to the community and the commission there was a lack of focus on substance abuse treatment to make sure those people received the help they needed to get off drugs for good.
Kirkendoll said he began looking at the county’s bill from the regional jail and was shocked to see what was being spent — sometimes in a wasteful manner as when a non-violent misdemeanor offender wound up locked up for several weeks until a hearing could be held on his case. Kirkendoll said the county looked into bringing in somebody with a degree in accounting to change that and with such changes Logan had managed to save over $1.4 million in the next four years by doing things differently than the old way. Kirkendoll said he was often proud of how Logan now leads the state in several different positive areas and that he never fails to point this out to other members of the Legislature.
Kirkendoll said everybody in the region today has a friend or relative with a drug problem, and noted that since its inception the Logan Drug Court program had seen two dozen people graduate with a pathway out of that problem. Kirkendoll said southern West Virginia had been ‘stigmatized’ “so we have always had to prove ourselves.”
Kirkendoll pointed out that his long time co-workers on the Logan County Commission and Logan’s two circuit court judges “are just regular guys like you,” and noted that along with the staff of the Day Report Center — which provides services for the Drug Court program — that the people in the Drug Court program could approach them and talk to them if they needed to talk about their problems. “Let us help you,” he said, adding “I am extremely proud of you guys and your families.”
Kirkendoll urged the graduates to keep moving forward with their lives and their recovery. He noted that for many people the greatest pain they feel in life is not for themselves but for their loved ones. “A lot of people care about you,” he said.
The first graduate discussed his life and what he had lost and what he had accomplished once he settled into the Drug Court program and began working towards applying it to his life. The second graduate thanked her sponsor and said that addiction had cost her just about everything she had at that point in her existence.
“I realized I had to change,” she said, adding “I gave up many people who I thought were my friends and unfortunately even some family members.” She worked hard and it paid off. “Now, I have a job and a bank account and soon I will have my own place,” she added as she was joined by her daughters.