Eastern Panhandle program designed to keep young offenders on drug-free path

Family Court judge overseeing program

April 01, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s first Juvenile Drug Court opened in Cabell County, W.Va., in 1999, and it’s taken 13 years for the benefits of the program to reach out to youngsters heading for trouble in the Eastern Panhandle.

Family Court Judge David Greenberg, who presides in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, is heading the local program. He said it’s designed to keep offenders ages 10 to 17 who use drugs or are at high risk for substance abuse out of jail and on a path to a productive life free of drug use.

The program is part of a national movement. An early promoter in West Virginia has been Justice Brent D. Benjamin of the Supreme Court of Appeals.

So far, about a dozen juvenile drug courts exist in West Virginia, Greenberg said.

Benjamin, in an email last week, said sometimes going to jail is “easier” than going through the drug court program.

“It challenges participants to accept responsibility for their lives. They have to hold down a job or maintain a certain grade-point average,” he said.

Benjamin said he has seen firsthand that drug court graduates “truly get a grip on their lives, and by and large stay on a track of law-abiding personal responsibility, completing their education, holding a job and being devoted to family and faith.”

The program takes seven to eight months to complete, Greenberg said.

Drug court, like the Day Reporting Centers for adult offenders, costs less than incarceration and cuts down on recidivism, proponents say.

It costs Jefferson County about $45,000 a year to incarcerate a person in the Eastern Regional Jail, according to the County Commissioners.

Eligible youths have committed chargeable offenses, Greenberg said. Prosecutors  decide which ones are sent through the judicial system or the juvenile drug court.

They are referred by teachers and guidance counselors, police, social-service agencies and even their parents, Greenberg said.

“All youths who do drugs don’t necessarily come from bad families,” he said. “They sometimes come from good families whose parents don’t know where to turn.”

It takes a team effort to make the juvenile drug court a success, Greenberg said.

Treatment teams consist of a juvenile court judge, prosecutor and probation officer, public defender or private attorney, licensed counselors, parents and teachers.

Youths accepted into the program are automatically adjudicated. They meet with a juvenile court probation officer, undergo drug testing and meet with a counselor weekly during the first of the program’s four phases. The requirements ease up as they advance through the process and head toward graduation, Greenberg said.

There are group therapy sessions for the youths and their parents or guardians.

Those who fail to complete the program will have their case returned to circuit court for processing there, Greenberg said.

The courts are a cooperative effort between the juvenile justice system, law enforcement, social-service agencies and the schools.

West Virginia has about 6,500 youths under some form of court-ordered diversion program or supervised probation, according to Supreme Court statistics.

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