Mary McCoy explained that the new drug court system is closer to the day report system, but with more stringent rules and regulations as the special guest speaker this week for the Lions Club of Logan.
Some non-violent offenders will be given the option of entering a guilty plea for their crimes and being placed in the drug court program, where they will be screened frequently for drugs, forced to perform community service work and take drug counseling and education classes.
Lawyers, drug counselors, educators and court officials will work with them during the program to find out what skills and abilities they need to get off drugs and become contributing members of society again and will assist them. Those who fail will be sent back to jail to serve out their sentences. Logan County Circuit Judge Eric O'Briant, who has spearheaded the project, and Logan County Circuit Judge Roger Perry, will work extra time to help administer the program.
"We have treatment teams which will meet weekly and discuss each client," McCoy said. "The judges will address the clients in the courtroom. It is a very intensive program with treatment and case management. They get drug tested three times a week, and are supervised and monitored heavily."
Those who are sent to drug court will be forced to undertake 36 hours a week of counseling and volunteer work in the first phase of the treatment.
"We combine efforts from different venues to prepare these people and help them get ready to go back into society — Hopefully we will show them a whole new lifestyle,” McCoy said.
According to McCoy, the routine 28-day detox is not enough to solve an addict’s substance abuse problem as addicts need to be clean and sober for six months to a year. Many people have underlying social or psychological problems that contribute to their addiction that need to be addressed as well, McCoy said. She noted that many addicts need more life skills and job training than they have to make it in the work world.
McCoy said that just sending people to jail or prison who have substance abuse problems doesn't work to solve their abusive habits. McCoy said most convicts have a 67 percent recidivism rate according to some statistics she has seen, while drug court participants have a much lower recidivism rate of 15 percent.
So, who is eligible for drug court?
"Non-violent offenders," McCoy said. "They can not have used a gun or have committed any sex crimes. This is for people who are not a threat to society, who can possibly be helped to become decent citizens.”
McCoy said drug court is cheaper for the long term and more affordable than current incarceration programs. She said it costs around $24,000 a year to keep somebody locked up in prison in West Virginia and building new prisons can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Drug court is more affordable and it has better results," she said. "We hope to reach people before they get to that stage of life where they wind up serving a long time in jail."
Drug court is no walk through the park, McCoy said.
According to McCoy, people who don't want to be free from drugs will not like the program. Those kicked out of the program go straight to jail to serve their sentence.
"For an addict, drug court is probably a lot harder than jail time," even though 36 hours a week of treatment, education and community service work is a lot for some people to handle, McCoy said. She noted that drug court participants cannot be on any narcotics, including methadone or pain pills.
McCoy said southern West Virginia has been devastated by the pain pill epidemic and that abuse of substances like xanax, hydrocodone and oxycontin has been a far bigger problem for this region than meth labs and street drugs.
"Prescription pills are destroying our society," she said, explaining that many people have drug problems these days who are not considered to be the traditional type of people associated with the drug scene. "Addicts are everywhere in all walks of society."
Participants in drug court face a minimum of one year to 18 months or longer before they can graduate from the program.